Mike Leigh has given Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel TV and Film School late notice cancellation of his visit there, saying that “cowardice” prevented him from pulling out earlier.
It’s one of the more confused and self-absorbed boycott undertakings you’ll have read. On the one hand he talks about his conscience. On the other hand he talks about having no choice, catharticly exclaiming “I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming”. On the one hand, he’s rightly outraged by the Israeli cabinet’s approval of a loyalty oath and the resumption of building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and on the other indicates that it is the profile of his visit rather than the visit itself that’s his ultimate headache. To his correspondent, who opposes the Israeli government, he writes accusingly about “your government” but, as if Israel acted in isolation, glosses the conflict and wider regional turmoil. He designates responsibility for the conflict entirely to Israel while boycotting Israelis who are active in building for peace.
He refers to “what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel”, yet he was offered, and turned down, a platform to sharply oppose the acts of the Israeli government. You get the impression that his hosts had attributed to him a desire to use the visit as an opportunity to promote peace which he didn’t actually have, and continued not to have even after the ignominious prospect of being spotted in the pariah state panicked him into cancelling.
In the end, the dilemma he sets out is a solipsistic one between commitment to his friend on the one hand, and antipathy to Israel on the other. There is no mention of the impact of his decision on the cause of peace he espouses, nor to what can be done practically to strengthen Palestinian – let alone Israeli – civil society to stand against the forces of conflict. The letter may be confused but it’s consistent in one thing: it’s exclusively about Mike Leigh.
One small point of positive note – the BBC has linked to the letter of response from Renen Schorr, director of the Sam Spiegel Film School director. From it:
“Thousands of Israelis are active in hundreds of organizations that champion peace and coexistence, roundly denouncing acts that are non-democratic or unethical, and promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Hundreds of protestors take to the streets each week to oppose their government’s policy, and they do this despite the strident condemnation and criticism of large portions of our population here. Over the decades Israeli filmmakers (joined by artists from the full cultural gamut) have used documentaries and features to grapple with the myriad strata of the conflict’s complexities. Those carrying out these courageous, controversial endeavors are people who see no contradiction between their being Israelis, Jews and Zionists and their belief in humanitarian, ethical principles, or identifying with the suffering of others. They fight, to a great extent, against the denial of this harsh reality by other Israelis.”
I realise that boycotting Israel must feel like a weight off a famous person’s mind in these weird and avid times, but I dispute that Mike Leigh has grounds for feeling less of a coward now.
October 18, 2010 at 9:35 pm
Life Is Sweet will always be one of my favourite films.
October 18, 2010 at 10:20 pm
Maybe so, Mira, as Secrets and Lies is one of my favourites. But how can one praise a director who shows that his courage to face adversity extends only to “safe” adverse situations? As reproduced, his letter shows no deep reasoning for failing to go to Israel, an Israel where he must know that not only is it safe for him to speak out in opposition, but that he’d be in good company. Would he be able to make similar comments in Saudi? He must know the answer.
A film maker who has shown great courage in broaching awkward subjects that many who rather not face has shown that his courage stops well short of the sticking point.
Regrettably, I now have to bracket Mike Leigh with the likes of Ken Loach as someone whose work I will have to think most deeply about watching. I know I’m the loser, but I don’t see why they should “win”.
October 19, 2010 at 9:53 am
See you at the Groucho, where Jews can talk to Jews about Jews – and no one else gives a damn.
Anyway, well done, this way, you can now sit back do nothing and feel really pleased with yourself. Ah, the easy life, eh!
October 31, 2010 at 12:40 pm
All Mike Leigh shows is his ignorance. Renen Schorr’s words ““Thousands of Israelis are active in hundreds of organizations that champion peace and coexistence…” say it all. The real path to peace is to stand against everyone onthe OTHER side who will not recognise the Jews’ right to their ethnic integrity within their own homeland, which is accorded to every other people.
Where are the “thousands of Palestinians who are active” etc etc etc.? By contrast with the Zionists, they were not there in the Mandate, they were not there from 1948 to 1967 and the Arab response to Resolution 242 was “No recognition, no peace, no end to war.” Most of them continue in this vein and claim the right thereby to inflict violence not only on Israelis but on Jews anywhere.
Mike Leigh condemns the reaction without any regard to its cause. He should know that film directors come 10-a-penny, but “self-absorbed” is so right, isn’t it.