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I moved from dank, dark North Manchester, U.K. to Karmiel, Western Galilee, Israel in March 2010. It is, believe me, one of the sunniest, loveliest towns on earth. With a background in local Jewish journalism I continue to write freelance. I manage several blogs, have  appeared on Technorati and Blogcritics and now contribute to the online magazine, 'Live Encounters'. My main blog is Alwayswriteagain (http://wwwalwayswriteagain.blogspot.com

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another Secret - Another Lie

This time it's personal!

Mike.Leigh Manchester-born Jewish  film-maker Mike Leigh has cancelled a visit to Israel in protest against the Netanyahu Government's plans to compel non-Jewish new citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

Leigh, 67, had been due to spend a week at a film school in Jerusalem late next month but has pulled out claiming that it is because Israel's government had gone  "from bad to worse".

Leigh, the son of well-known and respected local Zionists, the late Abe and Phyllis Leigh, who often recalls his time in Zionist youth movements like Habonim, called the loyalty oath "the last straw".

Speaking at the London Film Festival, where he is showing his new film Another Year, Leigh said he wanted to send Israel "a very clear message".

The bill, which has been approved by Israel's cabinet but still has to be passed by the The Knesset (Parliament), would add a phrase to the citizenship oath taken by non-Jews, requiring them to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state".

Critics say the move is discriminatory and would largely target Palestinians marrying Israelis. Some suggest that there is a contradiction in describing the Israeli state as both Jewish and democratic.

Leigh said on Monday:

 "When the time comes that Israel behaves respectably, and when there is a just peace for the Palestinians, and when Gaza is returned to humanity, then I will be first in line to go and share anything that anyone wants to with my colleagues, the Israeli filmmakers and other artists.

"But until that happens I think it's appropriate for all of us to leave a very clear message that we shouldn't and can't do that."

Leigh's letter to Renen Schorr, the director of the SamRenen.Schorr Spiegel Film and Television School, and Mr Schorr's response have been published on the school's website.

Leigh cites the Israel's attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May and the recent resumption of settlement-building on the West Bank as factors in his decision.

"I have become ever-increasingly uncomfortable about what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel were I to fulfil my promise and come," he writes.

"I have absolutely no choice. I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming," he wrote.

Responding, Mr Schorr said "the academic-cultural boycott of Israel ... does not arouse the Israeli public ... Boycotts and ostracism are the antithesis of dialogue".

I don't know Leigh personally, but like many people I admire much if not all of his work and have taken as much pleasure in his success as I have in that of other Anglo-Jewish artistes as members of the 'extended family'. A little silly, granted. But I am human!

Moreover, I knew his parents very well and my very first memories of living  and working in Manchester during the early 70s are of being hosted by them in their Salford home for Sabbath dinner and seeing a charming photograph of Mike and  his former wife, actress Alison Steadman atop a cupboard in their dining room.

The last time I visited Mrs Leigh (then long-since widowed) was after my own parents died in January 1996 and I saw one of Mike's books lying open on her coffee table. She was fantastically proud of his achievements and was thrilled that he contacted her regularly no matter where in the world his work took him.

So in my view his tirade against Israel  is as much a public betrayal of his close family as it is of his general upbringing and the general Jewish community.

Renen Schorr has already advised  Leigh that boycotts achieve nothing but resentment. His move, like others before him, injures neither Israel nor the present government but serves to damage only the students he had been due to help educate.

I also hated what Israel did during the raid on the flotilla in May. The IDF and its strategists had cleaner, swifter methods to remove the ships from Israeli waters and should have used them.

I too loathe the idea of the new loyalty oath. It is not only noisomely racist, it ridiculously daft. If such a clause were to be inserted into a similar oath in the U.K., it would mean all immigrants, no matter their religion, swearing allegiance to the Church of England and would certainly disenfranchise huge swathes of the population.

I am now a proud if often despairing Israeli citizen and look forward to an election where I can help to kick the present administration out of office. But talk of boycotts and blacklists is simply self-defeating and stupid.

Mike says he looks forward to visiting Israel in the future -should it  start to behave in the way he considers respectable. Mairead

It could be that like Irish 'peace-activist' and Nobel Peace Prize laureate,  Mairead Maguire, he finds that he is unwelcome.





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