British Artists Call for Boycott of Israeli Film Festival

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Filmmaker Mike LeighCredit: AP

More than 40 artists and filmmakers have called on British cinemas and BAFTA to boycott an Israeli film and television festival scheduled to open Thursday in London. They insist, however, that they are not encouraging a boycott of individual filmmakers, but only the State of Israel.

In a letter to The Guardian, the artists and filmmakers – including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky – urged the Curzon and Odeon cinema chains as well as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts to drop screenings for "Seret 2015," because, they say, the festival is promoted and financially supported by the Israeli government.

“By hosting it," they wrote, "these cinemas are ignoring the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until Israel abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them, and occupation of their land.”

According to The Guardian, "the letter says that because the festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via its London embassy there is a direct link between the cinemas, the screenings and Israeli government policies."

However, the petitioners add, they are not encouraging cinemas to refuse to run films by Israeli filmmakers, only to “reject the involvement and financial support of the Israeli state.”

“The boycott campaign specifically says this is not a campaign against individual film-makers," Loach told The Guardian. "It is a call for a boycott when the state of Israel invests money or is promoting the event.”

The Guardian did not report whether the signatories believe British cinemas should refuse to screen Israeli films that received government grants.

For their part, the founders of the festival, Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, issued a statement in which they said they appreciate “the support the Israeli government makes to the development of the film and television industries in Israel, and to assisting us in presenting Israel’s creativity to U.K. audiences.”

The statement continued: “Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented filmmakers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.

“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”

Last year, the U.K. Jewish Film Festival was caught up in a media storm after the Tricycle theater in which the annual event had been held for years announced it would not host it, after Israel's military operation in Gaza in the summer, and since the festival was being financially supported by Israel.

The theater eventually relented, but the furor sparked the refusal of organizers of other film festivals in Britain, including those in Edinburgh and Bristol, to receive any financial support from Israel.

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