UK Culture Secretary threatens to cut Government funding to arts organisations that boycott Israel

It was clear from early on in the row over the Tricycle theatre, during summer 2014, that government interference and threats to funding had played a significant role in the theatre’s capitulation. Now we have incontrovertible evidence in the form of a boast from the mouth of the UK Culture Secretary himself.

Sajid Javid joins Prime Minister David Cameron this week in conflating non-violent boycott actions – or in the case of the Tricycle simply the rejection of Israeli government funds during that state’s military assault on Gaza – with violent attacks on Jewish individuals and institutions. At a speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sunday, Javid referred to his unblemished record of bolstering the bullying tactics of pro-Israel lobby groups. According to Jewish News, Javid branded cultural boycotts ‘a form of the oldest hatred in the world.’

“Javid told deputies he had “no tolerance for cultural boycotts of Israel”. He added: “Whether cultural, educational or divestment, the answer is the same.”

Citing last year’s boycott of the UK Jewish Film Festival by the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, Javid said: “I intervened. I thought it was totally and utterly unacceptable and wrong. I have made it absolutely clear what might happen to their [the theatre’s] funding if they try, or if anyone tries, that kind of thing again.”

Sajid Javid contradicts the assurance given by his own department when it responded to a complaint in November:

“The Secretary of State expressed his own personal concern that the actions that the theatre took regarding the UKJFF politicised long standing cultural relations. You may be aware that the Secretary of State wrote to the UKJFF to explain that he could not intervene in the matter. This was nothing to do with interfering in artistic freedoms. Both the Secretary of State and the Minister for Culture fully respect the arm’s length principle especially as it applies to freedom of expression and artistic endeavour.”

In a previous post, we revealed that, when addressing the Union of Jewish Students’ Annual Conference in December, Javid confirmed his interference, but was not explicit about the threat used to force the theatre’s capitulation:

“The moment I heard about the Tricycle ban I knew I couldn’t just let it go.

It’s completely unacceptable for a theatre to act in this way, and I didn’t shy away from telling its directors that.

And I’m pleased to say that, after lengthy discussions, the Tricycle and the UK Jewish Film Festival have resolved their differences.”

This ‘resolution‘ was reached – it is now even clearer – by holding one party at gun point: ‘concede or lose your funding.’ There needs to be an urgent discussion about the implications of the Culture Secretary’s threat for the independence of UK art organisations. Despite Javid’s boast, the Culture Secretary has no actual powers to decide which groups get funding – at least that is not how arts funding is supposed to work in the UK.