Jewish and pro-Israel groups have condemned pressure by anti-Israel boycotters to cancel the London Israeli Film and Television Festival, labeling it "propaganda" and a manifestation of "bigotry" and "shameless anti-Jewish prejudice."
On Monday, a group of 40 British filmmakers and artists sent an open letter to the left-wing Guardian newspaper calling for the Curzon and Odeon cinema chains to stop screenings of Seret 2015, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival. The festival is scheduled to open this Thursday with a gala screening at Bafta, followed by a number of screenings at the aforementioned theaters in the days to follow.
The letter's signatories – which included a number of veteran anti-Israel campaigners, such as film director Ken Loach – claimed that "By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people."
"By hosting it, these cinemas ignore the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until it abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them, and occupation of their land," the letter continued, in a reference to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally.
The festival's founders rejected the accusations, and condemned the boycott calls as an attack on freedom of expression. In a joint statement, Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann insisted that "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."
The President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which represents UK Jewry, went further, blasting the boycott calls as "bigotry."
"The boycotters seem to have learned nothing from the Tricycle Theater debacle last summer," Jonathan Arkush told Jewish News, referring to the decision by the theater to boycott the UK Jewish Film Festival, which backfired after its Jewish sponsors launched a counter-boycott which forced it to backtrack.
"Their blinkered, bigoted approach is fixated solely on Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and the country they love to hate. They should be looking at ways to export peaceful solutions, not import conflict," Arkush added.
Paul Charney, Chairman of the UK Zionist Federation, concurred.
"This isn’t about policy, it’s about erasing any portrayal of Israelis that doesn’t fit with their propaganda efforts," he said. "It is the shameless face of contemporary anti-Jewish prejudice, holding artists from Israel to a higher standard than any other country."
As it stands at least one of the major cinema chains targeted has point-blank refused to cave to the demands of the boycotters.
In a statement, Curzon Cinemas said it "hosts many festivals throughout the year, including the Human Rights Watch film festival, the London film festival and festivals representing regions from around the world including the Kinoteka Polish film festival, the Romanian film festival and many more."
"We have not previously considered asking questions about the funding of a festival booked at one of our cinemas, and we do not consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment," it said.