Film-makers ask cinemas and Bafta to boycott London Israeli film festival

More than 40 artists and film-makers write to Guardian to accuse cinemas of becoming ‘silent accomplices’ to persecution of Palestinian people.

Film-makers including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky have called on the Curzon and Odeon cinema chains and Bafta to drop screenings for an Israeli film festival opening this week.

Seret 2015, the London Israeli film and television festival, is due to open with a gala screening at Bafta of the film Hill Start on Thursday. There will then be screenings at cinemas including Curzon Soho and Odeon Swiss Cottage in London.

In a letter to the Guardian, more than 40 artists and film-makers express sadness and disappointment that the festival has been given a berth.

It says the Israeli state is “promoting this festival and supporting it financially.

“By hosting it, these cinemas are ignoring the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until Israel abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them, and occupation of their land.”

The letter says that because the festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via its London embassy there is a direct link between the cinemas, the screenings and Israeli government policies.

“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and co-operation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.”

The letter stresses it is not a request to refuse to show films by individual film-makers “but to reject the involvement and financial support of the Israeli state”.

That point was reiterated by Loach, who told the Guardian: “The boycott campaign specifically says this is not a campaign against individual film-makers, it is a call for a boycott when the state of Israel invests money or is promoting the event.”

He said it was not about censoring art: “I’d be the last person to want to censor an individual voice.”

Other signatories to the letter include the actor Miriam Margolyes, the artist duo Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, and the artist Tania El Khoury.

In a statement, the founders of the festival, Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, said the Curzon group had a well-deserved reputation for showing the best of world cinema and they were delighted films from Israel were included in that category.

They also appreciate “the support the Israeli government makes to the development of the film and television industries in Israel, and to assisting us in presenting Israel’s creativity to UK audiences”.

The statement continued: “Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.

“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.”

A statement from Curzon cinemas said: “Curzon Cinemas 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.”

The festival, which began in 2012, has extended its boundaries this year with screenings also scheduled for Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.

The letter is resonant of the row over the UK Jewish film festival which the Tricycle theatre in north London refused to host last year. The Tricycle later changed its mind, although not in time to screen the films for 2014.

Last summer, at the Edinburgh fringe, loud protests led to the abandonment of a show by the Israeli theatre company Incubator. The City, a hip-hop crime fable, was cancelled by the Underbelly venue because the noise was having an adverse effect on other shows.