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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


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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Mike Leigh joins the growing Israeli boycott festival

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