The right outcome: Tricycle Theatre reverses UK Jewish Film Festival ban
15 August 2014
As a brief update to my post from last week. The Tricycle Theatre and the UK Jewish Film Festival have settled their differences after an agreement was struck to end the theatre’s refusal to host the festival.
Despite its previously robust defence of the decision, the Tricycle appears to have entirely relented on the issue of Israeli Embassy funding. A joint statement has been published, stating amongst other things:
‘Some weeks ago the UKJFF fell out, very publicly, with the Tricycle over a condition imposed by the Tricycle regarding funding. This provoked considerable public upset. Both organisations have come together to end that. Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London. The UKJFF and the Tricycle have agreed to work together to rebuild their relationship and although the festival is not able to return in 2014, we hope to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence with a view to holding events in the future.
The Tricycle received some support for its decision, which is still on its website (ironically just underneath the new conciliatory statement). But it also was subject to some trenchant criticism from well known commentators such as Hadley Freedman, Nick Cohen and Hugo Rifkind. In fact, there were surprisingly few commentators who came out in support for the Tricycle, and a surprising (to me anyway) number who were prepared to say they thought this decision was, or was very close to, anti-Semitic.
My post questioned whether the decision might have been discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. There were some fascinating comments which are still coming in. I also received some interesting emails from senior lawyers suggesting issues which I hadn’t considered such as standing under the Act as well as problems in finding an appropriate comparator. I stand by my view that the theatre’s decision was certainly vulnerable under the Equality Act, although a claim would be by no means straightforward.
Cultural boycotts involve highly sensitive political and ethical questions, but it is important to remember that the Tricycle never attempted to argue it was imposing a cultural boycott. Rather, it wanted to maintain its own political neutrality. That was always a spurious argument as the reality was that UKJF were being asked to compromise their own neutrality by dropping its ties with Israel.
This spat has been more than just an opportunity for lawyers to muse over an interesting equality issue. The Tricycle’s decision was obviously flawed. Its board were under a lot of pressure from funders and the Jewish community to backtrack. However, that board includes very senior arts and legal figures such as Philippe Sands QC who would have only reversed the decision if they had decided it was wrong in principle. Which it was.
It will be interesting to see whether the Tricycle’s stance has an effect on other organisations who do openly support cultural boycotts. One of the reasons commentators, and especially Jewish commentators, were so openly uneasy is that whatever your view on Gaza, the Tricycle’s decision seemed motivated less by principle than by a kind of allergic reaction to even a whiff of Israel. Nobody was asking the theatre to accept Israeli funding nor were the UKJFF even arguably supporting the Israeli government’s position on Gaza. And that disconnection between action and motivation feels a bit like anti-Semitism even if it was not consciously motivated by racial hatred of any sort.
So that is that. Hopefully this truly excellent festival can return to the Tricycle Theatre next year.