Two leading Zionist apologists had the thankless task on Wednesday of defending Israeli embassy funding for a film festival left homeless after the intended venue objected to links with the genocidal state.
After news broke of the decision by the Tricycle Theatre in northwest London to ask the UK Jewish Film Festival to sever its financial links with Israel because of its latest bloody assault on Gaza, Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard and Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, tied themselves in knots in two separate radio discussions with supporters of the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
On Radio 4’s World at One, Laurie Penny, contributing editor to the New Statesman, slated Pollard for trying to equate a polite request to accept an alternative to Israeli state funding with rampant anti-Semitism.
The theatre had, after all, offered to replace the Embassy’s contribution with its own resources so that the festival could go ahead. It was the film festival organisers who had insisted on retaining their Israeli state link.
Pennie, herself of partial Jewish extraction, had written in the NS on July 23: “It is not anti-Semitic to suggest that Israel doesn’t get a free pass to kill whoever it likes in order to feel “safe”. It is not anti-Semitic to point out that if what Israel needs to feel “safe” is to pen the Palestinian people in an open prison under military occupation, the state’s definition of safety might warrant some unpacking. And it is not anti-Semitic to say that this so-called war is one in which only one side actually has an army.”
Radio 5 Live on Wednesday evening gave the Zionist camp another opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot, putting the JLC’s Johnson up against J-BIG’s Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Listen from 02.39.30 to hear the discussion.
Johnson, claiming to represent the entire Jewish community in the UK, accused the Tricycle theatre of “opportunistically” picking on a Jewish event and undermining the “indelible link” between Jews in the diaspora and the state of Israel. He also insisted that cultural boycotts had never brought anyone closer to the peace and justice.
“Tell that to the people of South Africa,” said Wimborne-Idrissi, alluding to the long-running campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, including cultural boycott, that eventually brought South African apartheid to its knees. She challenged Johnson’s shackling of Jewish identity with Zionism as both historically wrong and currently dangerous, promoting the very antisemitism he unjustifiably alleges.
She made clear that there was nothing opportunistic about the Tricycle, where management had been in dialogue with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network about Israeli embassy funding since last year’s Jewish Film Festival. It was simply a case of people learning the truth about Israel’s cynical exploitation of cultural platforms to veil the state’s crimes against the Palestinian people and gaining the confidence to support the Palestinian call for cultural boycott.
It is telling that Stephen Margolis, chairman of the UK Jewish Film Festival, quoted in the Daily Telegraph accusing the Tricycle Theatre of politicising the affair, is trounced in the same report by no less a figure than National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner.
Giving unreserved support to Tricycle director Indhu Rubasingham and the theatre’s board, Hytner said: “It is entirely understandable that they felt obliged to insist that no government agency should sponsor the festival.”