The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council have condemned the Tricycle Theatre’s decision to ban the UK Jewish Film Festival as “shameful”.
But despite the communal outrage, a number of Jewish figures involved with the north-west London theatre have refused to criticise the boycott.
Sir Trevor Chinn, who is in the theatre’s “director’s circle”, Jewish Book Week chair Gail Sandler, a “pioneer” of the theatre and Tricycle trustee Jeremy Lewison all said they had no comment on the ban when contacted by the JC.
On Tuesday, the Tricycle, which has shown UKJFF films for the past eight years, said it would not host six galas and 26 screenings this year because of the festival’s “inappropriate” ties to the Israeli embassy.
The Tricycle had demanded that the UKJFF return £1,400 sponsorship it receives from the embassy, saying that the theatre would compensate, but the UKJFF refused.
Judy Ironside, UKJFF executive director, said: “We have always sought to convey a wide perspective on the conflicts in the Middle East and initiate open dialogue with our audiences and guest speakers; and the Israeli Embassy have always supported us in this. The Tricycle have refused to take this into account in their decision.”
Sir Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, defended the Tricycle. He said: “It is entirely understandable they felt obliged to insist that no government agency should sponsor the festival. It greatly saddens me that the UKJFF have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture.”
Jonathan Levy, chairman of The Tricycle, added: “Given the present situation in Israel/Palestine, and the unforeseen and unhappy escalation over the past three weeks, the Tricycle cannot be associated with any activity directly funded or supported by any party to the conflict. The Tricycle will be pleased to host the UKJFF provided it occurs without support or other endorsement from the Israeli government.”
In a joint statement, Gillian Merron and Simon Johnson, chief executives of the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, said of the Tricycle decision: “The event is a celebration of global Jewish culture and inherently apolitical. This decision is shameful and shows that boycotts of Israel inevitably lead to the harassment of Jewish culture and individuals.”
Although some Jewish figures associated with the theatre refused to comment on the ban, a senior partner at JPC Law, a “corporate partner” of the Tricycle, said the firm was withdrawing its donations.
Other individual donors said they were reviewing their position.
Peter Levy, a former chairman of the JC, said he had not yet decided whether he would withdraw his financial support but added: “It’s a shame. I hope they review their decision.”
Miriam Borchard, a donor and Wizo supporter, added: “I am shocked, it has always been very supportive of ethnic groups. Now I am having my doubts about my support for the Tricycle. Last time the Globe [theatre] was faced with an Israel boycott, they went ahead with the show.”
West London Synagogue member Andrew Stone, a trustee of the Kobler Trust, which has to date donated a six-figure sum to the theatre, said: “We deeply regret that they considered it appropriate for one cultural, charitable organisation to take a political position, the impact of which will inevitably cause harm to another.”
Bloomberg, one of the Tricycle’s largest sponsors, refused to comment.
Deborah Nathan, director of the children’s charity Emunah, said it had cancelled ticket bookings at the Tricycle, which amounted to £1,480. She said: “It is a sad day for Anglo-Jewry.”
A group of young Jewish professionals were due to stage their first organised protest outside the Tricycle on Thursday. Joseph Cohen, 32, co-founder of Campaign Against Antisemitism, established this week, said he expected hundreds at a rally outside the Kilburn theatre.
Mr Cohen, from Hendon, said: “We’re hoping to tell the public about the huge double standards the Tricycle have put on the film festival.
“They said they were doing this to keep it neutral, but they’ve made it political.”
For 2014-2015 the Tricycle received a grant of nearly £200,000 from Brent Council. Labour councillor Neil Nerva, said: “I’m coming from a left-wing point of view and it’s not fair. I think it sets a bad precedent for cultural boycotts in a diverse city. I am concerned about where this starts and stops. They had the Indian film festival.”
Actress Maureen Lipman said: “The Tricycle have decided to punish Jewish people in the diaspora for one view of what is taking place in the Middle East and that is quite unacceptable.”
Jewish filmmaker Jon Ronson, in a series of tweets, wrote: “British Jews should decide how to feel about Israel, not have cultural institutions grandstand all over us.“