British Director Mike Leigh Cancels Israel Visit to Protest Loyalty Oath Law

Nirit Anderman
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Nirit Anderman

British director Mike Leigh canceled his scheduled visit to Israel yesterday in the wake of the cabinet's controversial decision to approve an amendment to the Citizenship Law last week requiring non-Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."

Leigh, who last visited Israel in 1990 and has since stayed away to protest Israeli policy, was due to arrive on November 20 for a one-week stay as a guest of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. He was scheduled to lead student workshops and meet with audience members at cinemas. Leigh was also due to give a lecture to Palestinian colleagues at the Jenin Cinema.

In a letter addressed to school head Renen Schorr, Leigh said that he had considered canceling his trip after the raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31. "As I watched the world very properly condemn this atrocity, I almost canceled," he wrote. "I now wish I had, and blame my cowardice for not having done so."

Leigh wrote that he came to his decision after the government approved the amendment to the Citizenship Law. "This is the last straw," he wrote, adding that Israel was guilty of "endless shooting of innocent people [in Gaza], including juveniles."

The director of such films as "Life Is Sweet" and "Career Girls" wrote that he would not feel at ease visiting the country since his arrival would be interpreted as support for Jerusalem's policies.

Leigh, who is Jewish, said that he also began seriously contemplating canceling his visit after the government announced that it would resume construction in West Bank settlements.

Leigh added that only after a "just solution" to the Palestinian issue and the rehabilitation of Gaza would he accept an invitation to the country. The director apologized to students and faculty at the school for the cancelation.

In a response letter to Leigh, Schorr wrote that his announcement struck him profoundly.

"I am certain that the decision is sincere and that it reflects your detailed, legitimate political views, and your deep disappointment with Israeli policies," he wrote. "Yet the academic-cultural boycott of Israel, which you have now joined, does not arouse the Israeli public, nor its humanitarian elements, which are already aware of the evils of the occupation. Instead, the boycott actually weakens public concern. And weakens us. Boycotts and ostracism are the antithesis of dialogue."

Schorr went on to say that the people he was punishing - student, faculty and artists - were not the ones creating government policy.

"By this boycott that you are effectively imposing in canceling the visit, you are creating an association between the actions of the cultural-artistic genre and the policies of the government and the military - an exceedingly disturbing, sad generalization," he wrote.