Michael Dickson
Executive Director, StandWithUs - Israel

The wheels came off The Tricycle

The decision by a London arts venue to ban a Jewish film festival is retrograde, ignorant and hateful

The Tricycle views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream. It presents high quality and innovative work, which provokes debate and emotionally engages. Located in Brent, the most diverse borough in London, the Tricycle is a local venue with an international vision…Today, with Indhu Rubasingham as Artistic Director, the Tricycle Theatre continues its reputation for world-class British and international work, reflecting the exceptional diversity of its local community.

This is how the Tricycle Theatre describes itself on its website. Lofty artistic goals indeed. However, I suggest the following addendum be added to the part about “reflecting the exceptional diversity of its local community [unless you are Jewish]”.

As reported by The Guardian, the Tricycle has kicked out the Jewish Film Festival from using its premises on the grounds that the festival is associated with the Israeli Embassy. Artistic Director, Indhu Rubasingham – the very same Director who wishes the Theatre to reflect “diversity” — shut the door on the event.

Where to start about how wrong-headed this decision is?

The UK Jewish Film Festival is the largest Jewish festival in Europe. It features a dazzling array of world cinema exploring all aspects of Jewish and Israeli life. This includes, of course the products of the energetic Israeli film industry. Like many film industries, Israel’s receives taxpayer funding – Israel believes in the arts. Yet the award-winning cinema emanating from the Jewish state is the definition of diversity and is at times embracing of, and at times critical of, its home country. Israeli arts – like many aspects of Israeli society – represent a spirit of cooperation and partnership between Israel’s multicultural population – between Jews, Muslims and Christians, people of all faiths and people of none.

But a few weeks ago, the Islamist rulers of Gaza intensely increased their missile fire and extended their range to cover most Israeli population centers in a war against their ideological enemy, the world’s only Jewish country, which acted to defend itself. So now, Indhu Rubasingham has ruled, none of what I have stated about art in Israel matters. Israel, as far as she is concerned, is in the wrong. And since the Jewish Film Festival, slated to be held at her premises, is connected to Israel, it follows that it should be boycotted.

No doubt, in addition to her drama degree, Ms. Rubasingham is an expert in Middle East affairs. Likely she has read the Hamas Charter – which includes: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts” – from cover to cover. She is likely well versed in counter-terrorism,  in the intricacies of fighting against Jihadi terrorists who use their own civilians as human shields while aiming at Israeli civilians. Doubtless, Indhu Rubasingham has hard, empirical and fair-minded evidence as to why – of all – only Israel deserves to be a target for artistic boycott.

I am sure that Ms. Rubasingham is also a history buff. She is surely a scholar in anti-Semitism (termed “the longest hatred”), and will, of course, know that boycotting Jewish events is an age-old occurrence. In recent history, she will no doubt recall that a cultural boycott was installed in mainland Europe against Jews. Not in the UK, but near enough. She will I am sure have a robust defense as to why her actions are not, in this light, insensitive at the very least. I wonder whether the portion of Britain’s Jewish community, the pensioners who lived in European countries under Nazi rule before moving to enlightened Britain, will find that convincing.

Last week, Newsweek magazine’s cover asked whether anti-Semitism – spiking almost out of control in much of Europe – was spurring Jews to contemplate an “exodus” from the continent. Whether intended or not, the Tricycle’s decision will be cheered by those extremists willing this to be the case.

And if the Tricycle’s leadership claims that this clumsy and spiteful decision is only about Israel, and not Jews in general, perhaps they will enlighten us: which other religions, races or countries did they mark out for a cultural boycott?

This decision must not be allowed to stand. And if it does, it is the Tricycle itself that ought to be boycotted. In the family of 193 or so countries, there is but one nation-state of the Jewish people. Jews have, for time immemorial, been connected with their indigenous homeland. Aside from the fact that this boycott decision is one-sided and lacks any empathy for the strategic threats facing Israel, blaming local Jews for the perceived rights or wrongs of Israeli policy is racist.

Artists of integrity, as well as Tricycle patrons – Jewish and non-Jewish – should speak out and decry this backward move by the Tricycle. Brent Council – home to Europe’s oldest and largest Jewish school – should condemn this discrimination in the strongest terms. The Arts Council England, a registered charity, should reconsider whether it wishes its funding to be associated with the whiff of anti-Semitism.

On being appointed Artistic Director of the Tricycle, Indhu Rubasingham stated to The Guardian that she aimed to build a more diverse audience for the Theatre. No doubt her tenure will not be remembered for this, nor for the artistic heights of the performances taking place. She will be remembered for taking a retrograde, ignorant and hateful decision that flies in the face of what art is meant to stand for. Or rather, when the wheels came off The Tricycle.

About the Author
Michael Dickson is Executive Director of StandWithUs - Israel and the author of ISResilience: What Israelis Can Teach the World. Michael is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Communication of Bar Ilan University and he was named as the 14th most influential Jew on Twitter by JTA. He is a recipient of the Bonei Zion prize, recognizing the achievements of outstanding Anglo immigrants and their contribution to the State of Israel. Views expressed are personal. Follow on Twitter: