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The Only Democracy? » Victories for Democracy » Mike Leigh joins the growing Israeli boycott festival

Mike Leigh joins the growing Israeli boycott festival

By Jesse Bacon

You could already have a quite a film festival with the stars supporting the Ariel settlement boycott. Now one of my favorite directors Mike Leigh, has refused to come to Israel at all. On the same weekend that I heard JVP advisory board member Udi Aloni speak about artists who let themselves be used by the government versus those who don’t, Leigh gives us a good example.  He had already refused to come since 1990, but was about to make an exception when the loyatly oath came up for a vote.

British director Mike Leigh has canceled his scheduled visit to Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a controversial amendment to the Citizenship Law last week requiring non-Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Leigh, who last visited Israel in 1990 and has since stayed away to protest Israeli policy, was due to arrive on November 20 for a one-week stay as a guest of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. He was scheduled to lead student workshops and meet with audience members at cinematheques. Leigh was also due to give a lecture to Palestinian colleagues at the Jenin Cinema.

British director Mike Leigh British director Mike Leigh

In a letter addressed to school director Renen Schorr, Leigh said that he had considered canceling his trip after the raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, but that the amendment to the citizenship law was the final straw.

The director of such hit films as Life Is Sweet and Career Girls wrote that he would not feel at ease visiting the country, since his arrival would be interpreted as support for the government’s policy.

Leigh, who is Jewish, said that he began seriously contemplating canceling his visit after the government announced that it would resume construction in West Bank settlements. It was only after the citizenship amendment was passed that the decision to stay home was made, Leigh wrote.

He also wrote that he did not anticipate the media firestorm that would have erupted had he continued with his original plan and made the visit. Leigh added that only after a “just solution” to the Palestinian issue and the rehabilitation of Gaza would he accept an invitation to the country.

The director apologized to students and faculty at the school for the cancelation.

Leigh was born to a Jewish family and initially carried the surname “Lieberman.” He last visited Israel in 1990. Since then he has refused to
return in protest of Israeli policy in the territories.

This is a good illustration of how Israel’s government delegitimizes itself, a true top 10 list would have the government on top, closely followed by its American advocates. While Leigh’s films are political in their very structure, with their use of improvisation, I had trouble thinking of a clip that would celebrate his decision. Instead I think this video from his early work “Nuts in May” illustrates the caliber of the international entertainers who will be left to perform in Israel if the BDS Movement keeps growing in strength.

Here’s MIke Leigh himself talking about his decision at a press conference.

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JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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