It is with relief that the Tricycle Theatre in north London has reversed the decision to demand the UK Jewish Film Festival reject funding from the Israeli Embassy, in order to be hosted at this independent arts venue.
Upon first hearing of this initial decision to single out the UKJFF, the Jewish community was awash with discussion, hurt, and in some corners, anger. Was this a simple act of disagreeing with a foreign government involved in conflict? Was it a case of anti-semitism, victimizing a Jewish event above any others? Was it just a horrible mistake?
Bloggers and journalists all gave their perspectives, myself included, and a protest outside the Tricycle attracted 350 people. It is testament to the peaceful nature in which the Jewish community decides to protest, that I overheard an official from the venue offering protestors the option of protesting inside the venue. They would have been more likely to eat a Panini than smash up the refrigerated units in the café. The protest took place on the high street, in full view of London’s passing traffic.
Amongst many articles, Nick Cohen perfectly summarized the sheer wrongness of this decision, in The Spectator, when he wrote “Accusations of racism are made so often it is hard to see the real thing when it looks you in the eye. Let me spell it out for you. Racism consists of demanding behaviour from a minority you would never dream of demanding from your friends; forcing them to accept standards or privations because of their race.”
“The Tricycle banned London’s annual Jewish Film Festival yesterday – cancelling 26 showings and six gala performances – after Rubasingham demanded that the festival organisers return a small sum – about £1,400 – they had received from the Israeli embassy. The grant did not come with political conditions attached, any more than an Arts Council grant from the British state comes with insistence that artists promote the policies of the British government. The organisers were not desperate for the money, particularly after the Tricycle offered to cover the loss. (Or rather offered to cover it with taxpayers’ money from its £725,000 Arts Council grant.) The organisers refused to comply nevertheless. The Tricycle administrators, who included the inevitable progressive Jew, were trying to force them into a political gesture; to make them prove that they accepted its politics before it would let them exhibit their work.”
“The Tricycle has not gone through the minutiae of the funding for any other group that has visited its premises. It does not demand that comedians and actors issue manifestos that meet with its approval before allowing them to appear.”
Yesterday the announcement was made in a joint statement from the Tricycle and the UK Jewish Film Festival, a carefully worded piece which did not include the words “sorry”, “apologies” or “regret”, but did clarify that 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.” In effect, it seems like an embarrassing climb down camouflaged as the culmination of a summit of discussions.
The new discussion in the Jewish community, or at least one I’ve had numerous times in the 20 hours or so since the statement was released, is whether we ‘get back on’ the Tricycle or not. Even now, after this statement, would we feel comfortable supporting this establishment? Did they agree to reverse their decision out of goodwill, as this was the correct course of action? Was this an admission of wrong-doing, or did they agree to reverse it as they’d simply been found out? If there weren’t so much objection to this strangely unique decision, would the Tricycle have come to their own conclusion that it was wrong?
I say to Indhu Rubasingham and the Board of the Tricycle Theatre, an apology would have been nice. Jewish people should not have to grovel to be held to the same standards as anybody else.
Seeing that this is the UK Jewish Film Festival, and that the discussion of whether to revisit the Tricycle will be happening mainly, not exclusively, within the Jewish community of London, it’s right that we look for a Jewish perspective on forgiveness. As with Jewish perspectives on any issue, there are many, but here are a few thoughts from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who says there are three levels of forgiveness:
Level 1: “We don’t wish the person any harm and we even pray for their wellbeing. At this basic level of forgiveness we might still be upset, feel hurt or even angry. Yet we find it within ourselves not to hope for the person’s downfall and not feel the need for revenge.”
Level 2: “Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short time. We stop being angry. At this second stage we might not be ready to relate to the person as we did before, but we are able to move on and let go to the point where we no longer carry feelings of anger and resentment on any level.”
Level 3: “Restoring the relationship. At this final stage the forgiveness is complete. Not only have we forgiven the individual but we have totally understood and reaccepted him or her. We are now ready to be as close to the offending person as before.”
The Talmud explains that even if someone has hurt us terribly, it is expected of us to find the strength to forgive them at least on the first level. Absence of any forgiveness whatsoever is a sign of cruelty. Wishing badly on someone and the desire for revenge represents a weakness of personality that requires rectification.
On a practical level, the UK Jewish Film Festival is a wonderful vehicle for learning, celebrating culture and engaging with issues affecting Judaism in the world today. It is diverse, high-quality and totally worthy of support. Wherever Judy Ironside, the founder and Executive Director of UK Jewish Film, and her team decide is the best venue for the festival in 2015, the event should be supported without reservation. It would not be fair to punish the UKJFF for the previous actions of the Tricycle.
Outside of this specific annual event, I believe the Jewish community should at least try to reach ‘Level 3’ of forgiveness, to restore the relationship and strengthen it over the coming years, whilst taking in a few thought-provoking cultural performances as we go. For many, the underlying feeling that without community mobilization, mass protest, press coverage and the withdrawal of key funders, the Tricycle would probably have stood by their decision to hold a Jewish event to more rigorous standards than any other event, may make reaching ‘Level 3’ impossible. Some may reach ‘Level 1’, and only with time as a healer.
However, as many members of the Jewish community have passionately proclaimed before, boycotts divide and culture unites. It would not feel very right, it would not feel very Jewish, to create another cultural boycott, now that the original one that we all objected to has been annulled. Besides, if the Jewish community decide to boycott the Tricycle, and a similar occurrence were to happen again at another establishment in the future, the incentive to reverse the decision would be lessened, as the ‘Jews won’t come back anyway, whatever we do’.
I say with instinctive reservation, with emotional scars that may take time to heal, and with deep regret that the Tricycle did not actually make a full apology… Let’s get back on the Tricycle.