The letters page of The Guardian in the UK is regularly filled with letters, jointly signed by "correct-thinking" people who hope that in so doing, they will give themselves both a little puff of publicity and simultaneously signal their loyalty to all modern virtues. The pecking order can be rough. Ordinarily the paper selects the headline names to put under the letter and then adds "and 57 others" or some such. So if you're the Guardian's idea of a household name, your name will get in print. But if you are one of the space-filler "C-list" celebrities, people will have to guess whether you are among the "others."
The letter that went into the Guardian this week was unusual in having almost nobody sign it who is a household name. The letter was a demand from a group of "artists, producers and concerned citizens," who, it said, "are disappointed and saddened to see that Curzon, Odeon, Bafta and other cinemas are hosting the London Israeli Film and Television Festival." It takes a particular type of ego to think their "sadness" should be the subject of a public declaration; however, these saddened signatories warned that, "This comes at a time when the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is gaining unprecedented momentum, and the Israeli government is finding itself increasingly isolated for its systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, the Geneva conventions, and international law."
The complaint against the London cinemas for hosting the event comes, the signatories claim, because "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."
As you might guess, the signatories claim the right to decide what should or should not be shown, and where, because they say they are in the movie business.
They go on to claim that, "This festival comes in the aftermath of the wanton destruction and killing in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military in 2014, and the re-election of an Israeli prime minister who denies Palestinians their equal rights and self-determination."
Of course, every word of all that is untrue. Have any of the signatories any idea of what "wanton destruction" -- as opposed to the most targeted and precise use of military technology in any conflict in history -- actually looks like?
Anyhow, their interminable letter continues to declare that the screening of Israeli films in these circumstances makes the cinemas "silent accomplices" to violence. For a profession so obsessed with glorifying violence, you would think that the signatories would be more careful about throwing around such charges, but almost none of the signatories seems to have anything much to do with film. Of the more than forty signatories, only Ken Loach and Mike Leigh could have any claim to prominence in their field. Some people may remember Miriam Margolyes -- another signatory -- for a bit-part in one of the Harry Potter films, but these days she is best known for signing anti-Israel joint letters "as a Jew." The other signatories include as their occupation "activist," a "Theatre Maker," a schoolteacher and a university lecturer from Bournemouth.
Their opinions on Israeli counter-terrorism strategy may be those of a group of teachers, the unemployed and two extreme-left filmmakers, but it is Israel they are against, so of course the letter is of note. So much so, that it received an accompanying news story in the print edition of the paper. This gave a further quote from Ken Loach, who said: "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. I'd be the last person to want to censor an individual voice."
One doubts, in fact, that Loach would be the last. He is always among the first. The letter -- and the surrounding furore -- is simply the latest in a series of attempts to make Israeli and indeed Jewish culture "forbidden." In London, we have had Israeli orchestras, theatre companies and even string quartets howled down by mobs during performances, and Israeli-performed shows cancelled because the venues hosting them just do not want the bother. Last year, the Tricycle Theatre in London refused to proceed with a festival of "Jewish" culture because a tiny proportion of the festival's funding was coming from the Israeli embassy in London.
The campaign is obviously organized. The same names crop up again and again. Little, if any, rigour is paid to whether the signatories of such letters even do what they say do, or have opinions worthy of any note. Beneath the barely-built veneer of "professionals objecting to something in their own profession," is just the same tiny number of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish obsessives. A sprinkling of "as a Jew" Jews, like Margolyes, help, of course. But the aim is clear. These people, step by step, want to make every expression of Israeli and Jewish cultural life subject to their idea of how a nation under constant threat of terrorist bombardment should behave. They denounce Israel as a militaristic society and then attempt to outlaw every non-militaristic cultural and artistic expression from that society.
It is the bigotry of our time. And if unchecked, it will lead in the same direction as it historically has done. Thankfully, although few people have seen the films of those self-important Guardian letter signatories, we have all seen this larger, historical film -- and it is not one that decent people would like to see repeated.