Protesters deliver letter to actors’ union over ‘role in escalating the upsurge in antisemitism’

Campaigners say that Equity’s call for members to join pro-Palestinian demonstrations left Jewish creatives feeling unsafe


A group of angry demonstrators who say they represent nearly 300 “usually anonymous theatre-goers, who sit in the dark and applaud”, have delivered an open letter to Equity, the actors’ union, denouncing positions taken by the union’s leaders over pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May.

The campaigners, wearing sashes with the words “Equity’s Inequity”, took issue with the union’s general secretary, Paul Fleming, and its president, Maureen Beattie, who called for people to attend pro-Palestinian demonstrations in central London.

Numerous union members, the most prominent of whom was Dame Maureen Lipman, resigned from Equity in protest, with many Jewish creative professionals saying they no longer felt safe.

Judith Ornstein, one of the organisers of the protest, said that the open letter — which was also delivered to the Society of Theatres —was in response to actions taken by Paul Fleming and Maureen Beattie.

She said: “How can we enjoy the theatre knowing there are creatives on stage and behind it whose union Equity has made them unsafe?”

Only five days after Hamas began rocket attacks, she said, Ms Beattie had called for sanctions against Israel, and both she and Mr Fleming had encouraged Equity members to take part in pro-Palestinian events.

Ms Ornstein added: “We saw the vile antisemitism and violence at pro Palestine rallies. It’s hard to believe Paul Fleming didn’t see it. He should have seen it. A union should protect and support its members. All its members. Paul Fleming should have made that his priority.” 

The two union leaders issued a statement on May 20 in which they criticised what they called “the disproportionate actions of the current Israeli government” in defending itself.

In a subsequent statement, they insisted that the Equity stance was balanced and that they stood against Hamas and antisemitism.

Ms Ornstein said that the demonstrators were calling on Paul Fleming and Maureen Beattie “to acknowledge how ill-judged and partisan their intervention has been, and also its role in escalating the upsurge in antisemitism in the UK”. The open letter said the pair should “undertake antisemitism awareness training and rebuild bridges with those union members they have let down”. 

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