The right outcome: Tricycle Theatre reverses UK Jewish Film Festival ban

15 August 2014 by

TRICYCLE-UKJFFAs 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 Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in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.

13 comments


  1. Andrew says:

    Every individual is free to boycott anything. No individual is bound to. no individual can require another individual to do so. No organisation can require any individual, its member or not, to do so. No employer, private or public sector, can require its employees to do so. No manifestation of the State, national or local, can require anyone, including public employees, to do so. No individual’s wish to do so can interfere with the free trade in goods and ideas. No employee has the right to refuse to handle any goods the employer handles because of that individual’s wish to boycott those goods. In short: if you don’t want to buy Israeli goods, or goods from a country where human rights are suppressed such as China, you don’t have to: but that is as far as it goes.

  2. Patrick Harrington says:

    Good news! Although I support the Palestinian cause I don’t support attacks on artistic freedom. These boycott campaigns should be treated with the utmost suspicion by all lovers of liberty.

  3. Sorry Adam but I just don’t see how you can call this dispute a “cultural boycott”. The decision was taken to distance the Tricycle Theatre from the Government of Israel not Jewish Culture. I hope you recognise there is a difference.

    As the post from Stephen | August 16, 2014 at 1:48 pm states (a point which you have not commented on or responded to). The UKJFF withdrew from using the Tricycle as a venue when it raised concerns about funding from the Israeli Embassy (the representatives of the Israeli Government in the UK) . The Tricycle offered to cover the shortfall in funding which the UKJFF refused.

    Kind regards

    Richard

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      I didn’t refer to it as a cultural boycott: in fact, I said the “Tricycle never attempted to argue it was imposing a cultural boycott”. The argument which I said was spurious was that they were attempting to protect their own political neutrality.

      As to the “ban” point – the Tricycle imposed a condition on UKJF which it made very clear it couldn’t accept. The offer to cover the shortfall was beside the point as the money itself was not the point (it was only £1,400 – see my previous post). The precondition made it impossible for UKJF to use the venue, hence the word “ban”.

  4. intsolpal says:

    how can you call this a human rights blog shame on u. off course it wasnt the right decision to reverse funding. you make no mention of the boycott movemen..would you have written sich an article about white apartheid south african govt part funding a film festival or french theatres refusing to show german movies during ww2. stop playing the antisemitism card its pathetoc…they offrted alternative funding thats NOT anti semetic…what is is the fascist despicable treatment of palestinians by israel…write about that on ur human right blog!

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      What an extraordinary comment – you have obviously not read a single word of either post.

  5. David J-S says:

    I have only now become aware of this extremely interesting website; I happened upon it when looking for reactions to the Tricycle Theatre’s sensible re-think about its decision to refuse to host the Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers eschewed its funding from the Israeli Embassy. It has been a real pleasure to read such calm, intelligent and reasoned writings about the situation. Leaving to one side the emotive question of whether the original decision was anti-Semitic (and only noting in passing that the supporters of the original decision have, it seems to me, hung themselves on the usual horns of trying to purport that ‘We are not anti-Semitic, we are anti-Israel’, which always seems akin to those who say ‘It’s not homosexuals to whom we object, it is the practice of homosexuality’ aka ‘It’s fine to have TB, just don’t cough’ – but intelligent people often do get themselves into all sorts of contortions in trying to justify the unjustifiable, as not to do so would mean questioning an entire socio-political ethos), one can only wonder about the quality of the legal advice received by the Tricycle (assuming they received any, and given that the Tricycle receives public funding through the Lottery, one would have though that they would have proceeded with especial care on any issue pertaining to discrimination), especially given that other festivals, e.g. Portuguese, Irish, are part-funded by the respective embassies. Living a couple of miles from the Tricycle, I have been aware of the protests against the Jewish Film Festival in previous years, and I feel that this nuisance factor, and pressure from such groups, brought about the original, misguided decision.

  6. Andrew says:

    The tragedy of Gaza is wholly and entirely the result of the Hamas gangsters attacking Israeli civilians (Jew and Arab) and using their own civilians as cover. I am well aware that the losses in Israel have been less and Zahal is rightly determined to keep it that way. I wish somebody would tell me what a “proportionate” response would be. To allow just a few rockets, just a few mortars, just a few tunnels?

    As for the Tricycle, they have surrendered at discretion and rightly so. John, please tell us when supporters of the only democracy in the Middle East have misused the law to deny individuals (not organisations) their personal right to boycott? Please tell us whether you think there is a human right to go into a shop where Israeli-made goods are on sale, buy them, and leave, without being molested?

  7. Stephen says:

    You are still stating (incorrectly) that the Tricycle banned the UKJFF, when it did not. The UKJFF decided that it would rather not have the festival at the Tricycle than refuse funding from the Israeli embassy. I posted a comment on your blog (to which you did not reply) that either this was a dishonest characterisation of the matter, or very stupid. Why do you think that anyone should rely on your commentary on human rights when this obdurate misrepresentation of the facts persists? If you were appearing as a lawyer in a case, I would not trust what you say and doubt that judges or your opponents would either.

  8. John says:

    You seem to be making a common error in assuming that “Israel” represents all the Jews in the world. It does not. There are many Jews I know who detest “Israel” both for what it has done in the past and for what it has been doing in Gaza, where murderous mass slaughter is dismissed as “mowing the lawn” by senior Zionist politicans and senior Zionist military officers.
    I am sorry the Tricycle is withdrawing from the cultural boycott campaign, though I understand why. The ever-present threat of hugely expensive lawfare from “Israel” is something that makes many lesser committed people think more than once before embarking on any similar campaign.
    I respect you, Adam, and I respect this blog and the fantastic work it does in highlighting developments in human rights law. Please do not abuse the tolerance of your readers by introducing matters of your own religio-ethnic personal opinions into the page contents.

  9. Andrew says:

    Boycotts are only of any moral value if they are the choice of individuals – or at the highest households – and cause the individual/household some loss; not necessarily financial. If not, they are just gesture politics.

  10. APDLondon says:

    Great news, and a sensible one in the circumstances. Whatever your feelings towards the horrendous Israel/Gaza conflict, they cannot be used as an excuse for what is, prima facie, racial discrimination back home.

  11. wagaba1 says:

    Regardless of what went on during and after the discussions following the boycott, and this subsequent decision to relent, I still stand by and want to applaud Tricycle management for making their feelings known during the time when Gaza was under heavy bombardment. Now that it has almost ended, UKJJF can as well plan for the future without Tricycle and, I am sure following this incident UKJJF will have to rethink about their future relationship with the management of Tricycle. I am also glad that common sense prevailed and it didn’t end at the courts.

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