Mike Leigh joins cultural boycott of Israel

Mike Leigh, celebrated UK film director and screenwriter (Secrets & Lies, Naked, Vera Drake), has cancelled a trip to the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. He has cited the proposed ‘loyalty oath’ as the ‘last straw’ from an Israeli government that has gone from ‘bad to worse’.

The text of Leigh’s letter to school director, Renen Schorr, can be read here. Schorr’s response is here.

I just want to make one point.

Mike Leigh says in his letter that the planned trip has made him:

ever-increasingly uncomfortable about what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel…

Does Mike Leigh not support Israel? I’m assuming he does and he’s not previously given any indication he wants to see the demise of Israel. It’s a fair interpretation of this statement to assume Leigh is referring to specific acts by the Israeli government that he cites in the letter as having contributed to his decision to cancel his visit; acts for which he is determined his support should not be implied. But such an interpretation renders his comment above – not least his conviction that to proceed with the visit has an ‘unquestionable’ appearance – illogical. A visit to the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and a belief that Israel should not exist may be ideologically irreconcilable. Such a visit and mere criticism of the Israeli government can happily coexist, however, and the latter is not dilluted by the former. He is not scheduled to visit apartheid South Africa, or Iran, or North Korea where such a visit would indeed have been used for propaganda purposes and no opportunity to dissent from the government line would be afforded. Israel is a democracy. Should Leigh rethink his decision to cancel, the extent to which his visit could be interpreted as implicit support – or any other form of support – for the actions of the Israeli government, is something he controls. Does he not trust himself?

Supporters of a two-state solution have been traditionally vocal about the need for dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians: “You make peace with your enemy, not your friend, and this means, ultimately, sitting around a table and talking.” You know the drill. There are obviously many different routes to the negotiating table, but this is, I think, basically correct. It’s correct even when your opponent is a proto-fascist hate-monger who is on record as seeking your destruction. Maybe especially correct? Doubtless Leigh would concur, which makes his decision, sincere as it may be, even more unfathomable.

From Schorr’s response:

Boycotts and ostracism are the antithesis of dialogue.


See also Engage.