Threats to anti-racism charity lead to Ken Loach stepping down as competition judge

  • Show Racism the Red Card commends Loach’s ‘commitment to fighting racism’
  • Charity’s funding put at risk by unfounded allegations

Show Racism the Red Card and Ken Loach – a statement from Ken Loach’s supporters first published at the website of Sixteen Films

Film director Ken Loach has withdrawn as a judge in the 2020 School Competition run by respected anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).

The charity announced on February 4 that Ken Loach and author and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen were to judge this year’s competition, which involves thousands of schoolchildren in hundreds of schools producing poetry, drama, films and other forms of creative work on combating racism. Loach, Rosen and SRtRC were then subjected to an aggressive and abusive campaign both on-line and in print media, making baseless accusations of antisemitism against Ken Loach in particular.

In response to these allegations actor and comedian Steve Coogan said: “His entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. His films have given a voice to the voiceless.….Ken Loach’s legacy will remain long after his critics have gone.”

Ken Loach’s work as a campaigning film director has, over decades, consistently exposed inhumanity, inequality and injustice, from Cathy Come Home (1966) and Kes (1969), to I, Daniel Blake (2016). The vitriolic attacks mounted against him treated his contribution to combating social injustice with complete contempt.

More insidiously the attacks on Ken Loach and Michael Rosen were complemented by pressure behind the scenes on the charity itself, including from Government; pressure on football clubs who partner with SRtRC; and threats to jeopardise SRtRC’s charitable status.

As pressure on SRtRC mounted Ken Loach received overwhelming support from more than 200 eminent public figures, including Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Mark Rylance, John McDonnell MP, Dame Marina Warner, fellow filmmaker Mike Leigh, ex-minister for education Baroness Blackstone, Kenny MacAskill, former justice minister of Scotland, and over 30 national executive members of the National Education Union.

In letters sent to the charity’s Trustees they said: “In our fractious and still deeply racist society, their work [Ken Loach and Michael Rosen] promotes decency, understanding and kindness.” The signatories said that the calls, made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for Ken Loach’s removal as a competition judge “clearly reflect political differences, including over Israel-Palestine”. “Legitimate political differences” they said “must not be allowed to undermine unity against a common threat from the far right and racists.”

On March 4th SRtRC’s Trustees reaffirmed the choice of judges, and endorsed the earlier statement by chief executive Ged Grebby that Rosen and Loach were both ideally qualified to choose the competition winners. However, the charity was then subjected to further intense behind-the-scenes pressure, which threatened to wreck not only the competition and Ken Loach’s reputation, but the charity’s very existence.

In discussions between Ken Loach and SRtRC, it became clear that the charity has been the subject of an aggressive campaign to persuade trade unions, government departments, football clubs and politicians to cease funding or otherwise supporting the charity and its work (for example, training teachers to deal with racism in the classroom; and working with football clubs around the country to involve more young Asian men and women in the game). Threats were also made to its charitable status. The priorities of those involved in this campaign – which threatened to destroy an important and admirable anti-racist charity – deserve critical scrutiny.

It also got personal. Members of the charity’s staff were insulted and threatened, and 83-year-old Ken Loach and members of his family were subjected to personal abuse online. This is the background to the statement today announcing his withdrawal as a competition judge. SRTRC paid tribute to the work Loach has done over many years in combating racism, which has led to him being a member of their Hall of Fame.

The allegations made against Ken Loach lean heavily on a deeply controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance document that attempts to redefine antisemitism so as to conflate it with criticism of Zionism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Ken Loach has publicly supported pro-Palestinian Labour Party members who have been accused of antisemitism for such criticisms.

In recent weeks, there has been a further wave of pressure on Show Racism the Red Card to break its links with Ken Loach, based on a response he had made in February 2019 to a request for support from Peter Gregson, a member of the GMB union. Gregson claimed that the GMB was victimising him for his opposition to the IHRA version of antisemitism, and he asked Ken Loach’s advice on a video he had made in support of his appeal against expulsion from the union. Loach responded briefly by email, commenting on the video’s technical short-comings and affirming that its political case was sound. Ken Loach was unaware at that time of some disturbing behaviour and other comments attributed to Peter Gregson that were antisemitic.

Loach said: “I find Peter Gregson’s views and behaviour utterly reprehensible and I unequivocally reject his antisemitism. His misogynistic bullying of a young Jewish woman in the GMB union was also appalling. Had I been aware of these views and behaviour when he approached me, I categorically would not have engaged with him. I entirely support the GMB’s decision in expelling Peter Gregson.”

Ken Loach explained that his film company, Sixteen Films, has a small staff of five people who are frequently overwhelmed by requests for support from a range of campaigns and worthy causes. “Our day job is making films,” Loach said. “We try to help and respond to people in good faith. This leaves us vulnerable to giving support to those to whom it should be denied. This has clearly happened in this case. An error on my part, for which I have apologised.”

SRTRC has made clear that they do not believe that Ken Loach is an antisemite, nor that he supports antisemitic views. The campaign of vilification against Ken Loach, Show Racism the Red Card and those who supported them, has involved damaging and distressing online abuse that should have no place in anti-racism work. It is completely unacceptable that Ken and members of his family, and Michael Rosen too, have been subject to abuse. SRtRC is a small organisation with an unparalleled record of promoting anti-racism within schools and football clubs. It has reached tens of thousands of young people around the country, every year for the past 25 years. This educational work is more vital than ever in face of the threat posed by the growth of far-right movements in the UK and internationally. The attacks reveal the priorities of those willing to put all this at risk.

These attacks on SRtRC and Ken Loach are dangerously divisive. They carry the danger of pitting minorities and their diverse community organisations against one another. This cannot be afforded and should not be tolerated at a time when society stands in urgent need of unity in fighting all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry, together, wherever they occur.

Anti-racism charity confirms Ken Loach as judge for its School Competition

For immediate release

  • Show Racism the Red Card has resisted pressure to ditch campaigning film-maker Ken Loach as a judge for its annual School Competition.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Mark Rylance, Miriam Margolyes OBE, Dame Marina Warner, Baroness Blackstone, Steve Coogan and many other leading figures have backed Loach.
  • Eric Cantona: Everybody knows Ken Loach is a warrior against injustice. Show Racism the Red Card is right to work with him.
  • Fellow filmmaker Mike Leigh: ‘The charity has unquestionably made the right moral decision.’ 

Well-known and widely-respected anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) has upheld its invitation to filmmaker Ken Loach to judge the charity’s 2020 School Competition.   The competition (to be judged jointly with author and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen) is a major anti-racist fixture.   More than half a million school students have taken part in these annual events.

When launching the competition on February 4, SRtRC CEO Ged Grebby said of the appointment of Ken Loach and Michael Rosen as panel judges, ‘I can’t think of two people better qualified to choose the winners’.   However, Ken Loach was attacked on grounds of alleged antisemitism, and the charity put under pressure to withdraw his invitation. Sajid Javid, at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer, even retweeted a hostile message from the Board of Deputies of British Jews to his 170,000 followers.   Michael Rosen was also vilified in the press, and subjected to online accusations of antisemitism. But after careful consideration, Show Racism the Red Card has reaffirmed its choice of Loach and Rosen as judges.

Miriam Margolyes OBE said, ‘I am delighted by this decision.   It is the best way of responding to a baseless campaign of accusations.   Ken Loach is a man who has dedicated his life to opposing racism, and he has my full support’.

Loach’s fellow film director Mike Leigh said, ‘The charity has unquestionably made the right moral decision.  It is preposterous to call Ken an antisemite. Ridiculous, in fact’.

Legendary footballer and outspoken anti-racist, Eric Cantona, strongly endorsed both Loach and SRtRC: ‘Everybody knows Ken Loach is a warrior against injustice. Show Racism the Red Card is right to work with him.They are a brilliant charity doing vital work in fighting all forms of racism. I support them 100% – you must too!’.

John McDonnell MP said, ‘I am pleased that Ken Loach is now able to fully participate in this initiative.   There should have been no questioning of his ability to do so. Ken is an outstanding, dedicated campaigner against racism in all its forms’.

Oscar-winning actor Sir Mark Rylance told the charity’s Trustees, ‘I am not a judge, but to me the active attempt to discredit Ken Loach is an act of defamation, a slander…  An apology should now be forthcoming from his accusers’.

Actor and comedian Steve Coogan said: ‘[Loach’s] entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised…  For him to be castigated by the likes of Sajid Javid is shameful’.

More than 200 public figures wrote to SRtRC urging it not to give in to pressure to remove Loach, saying it was ‘regrettable’ that Loach and Rosen had been ‘subject to vilification’, and warning it would be ‘damaging for the struggle against racism in all its forms if SRtRC were to succumb’.   Signatories include:

  • Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona
  • musicians Peter Gabriel, David Gray and Brian Eno
  • actors David Morrissey, Miriam Margolyes,  Juliet Stevenson 
  • John McDonnell MP
  • civil rights lawyer Michael Mansfield
  • academic and author Dame Marina Warner
  • 30 national executive members of the National Education Union

Michael Rosen said: ‘I am beginning to wonder how the word “antisemitism” is being used.   As a child my parents told me of their fight against antisemitism in the East End of London in the 1930s.   I am worried and saddened that our fight against antisemitism, as I have always understood it to mean, is being undermined.’

Responding to the charity’s decision, Ken Loach said, ‘It is a great shame that Show Racism the Red Card has had to deal with baseless claims of this sort.   They are a distraction from the vital work of anti-racist education, which is needed now more than ever. These smears are very distressing to me and my family, but I have been overwhelmed by the support of so many artists, academics, lawyers, footballers, trade unionists – people with a lifetime’s experience of committed work in their fields.   I am honoured to be judging the competition, and I look forward to engaging with the work of so many thousands of young people.’



1.   The details of the Show Racism the Red Card School Competition are here

2.  Statement by Show Racism the Red Card, March 5 2020

We are sad that a creative initiative to encourage young people from a range of diverse backgrounds – many of whom have direct and painful experience of racism – has been overshadowed.

We condemn antisemitism and racism in all its forms.   Through our education programmes we have worked tirelessly to combat racism since we were founded nearly 25 years ago.   Much of our work involves raising awareness of the Holocaust and antisemitism. We welcome those who question our decision to work with Ken Loach and Michael Rosen to collaborate with us on future education campaigns.

With hate crime on the rise – and the Jewish community increasingly a target – our anti-racism work is more vital now than ever. We are a non-political charity that relies on support from people with differing political views, who are all united in their belief that racism must be eradicated.   Cross-party support is essential to our mission, which is why we established the Show Racism the Red Card All-Party Parliamentary Group, comprising Parliamentarians from different political parties working together in partnership.

Many prominent figures in academia, the arts, education, law, media, politics, science and sport have contacted us to endorse our decision to work with Ken and Michael, and to refute the allegations made against them.   We are grateful for their support, as well as for the kind messages we have received from the public. We have taken time to reflect and listen, and we stand by our decision to work with Ken and Michael, who are both long-standing supporters of our charity.

We previously recognised Ken Loach with a Show Racism the Red Card Hall of Fame award for the work he has undertaken with the charity spanning two decades.   As a world-renowned film director, we are delighted that he has agreed to judge our annual School Competition, alongside the recognised novelist, poet and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen.   It is the UK’s largest anti-racism competition for schools, with 27,000 young people taking part last year and more than 8,000 calendars of the winning work distributed. More than half a million young people have entered the competition since it launched in 1998, producing art, creative writing, film or music around an original anti-racism theme.   As award-winning icons in their respective fields, it is very exciting for us that Ken and Michael have agreed to be judges. But equally important is the compassion we have seen them show to people – of all races and religions – who our charity is here to help.

3.  Full text of Letter 1 addressed to Show Racism the Red Card, signed by 138 public figures, plus the full list of signatories, including Sir Alex Ferguson and former justice minister of Scotland, Kenny MacAskill:  

 Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) plays a vital role in the fight against racism in football. 

 SRtRC’s initiatives have included the annual School Competition on racism, in which young people produce creative work (artwork, creative writing, song, film) with an original anti-racism theme. 

The choice of celebrated film-maker Ken Loach and children’s author Michael Rosen as panel judges is highly fitting.   As SRtRC chief executive Ged Grebby said of Loach and fellow judge Michael Rosen when launching the competition, ‘I can’t think of two people better qualified to choose the winners’.

It is therefore extremely regrettable that they have both been subject to vilification. We regard these attacks, and in particular the demand that Ken Loach be removed as a panel judge, as completely unjust and a threat to principles of free expression. 

 Ken Loach is an implacable opponent of racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia.   We believe that the charges of antisemitism against him are without foundation, and rest on misrepresentation and distortion.   Ken Loach’s own statements on antisemitism and the Holocaust leave no room for doubt.[1]

 We believe that demands for Ken Loach’s removal as a competition judge reflect political differences, including over Israel-Palestine.   As signatories we share a conviction that legitimate political differences must not be allowed to undermine unity against a common threat from the far right and racists.   Furthermore, misplaced accusations of antisemitism against Ken Loach risk degrading the real threat of antisemitism and other forms of racism.

Ken Loach is a life-long and consistently outspoken advocate for progressive causes. We call on Show Racism the Red Card to firmly reject demands for his removal as a panel judge and stand by its invitation to him

Sir Alex Ferguson

Eric Cantona, footballer, actor

Kenny MacAskill, former Justice Minister of Scotland 

John McDonnell, MP

Baroness Blackstone

Sir Geoffrey Bindman, QC

Michael Mansfield, QC, civil rights lawyer

Henry Blaxland, QC

Rajiv Menon, QC

Benedict Birnberg, lawyer

Jane Deighton, solicitor

Jim Nicholl, solicitor

Matt Foot, solicitor

Antony Lerman, former Director, Institute for Jewish Policy Research 

Frances Webber, Vice-Chair, Institute of Race Relations

Suresh Grover, The Monitoring Group

Jock Morris, Chair, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees

Clare Short

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist, author 

Jonathan Steele, journalist

Dr Ghada Karmi, author

Melissa Benn, writer, education campaigner

Alan Gibbons, children’s author

Professor David Epstein, FRS, University of Warwick 

Professor Tim Shallice, FBA FRS, University College London 

Professor Graeme Segal, FRS, University of Oxford 

Professor Malcolm Levitt FRS, University of Southampton 

Sir Iain Chalmers, Editor, James Lind Library

Dame Marina Warner, DBE CBE and FBA, Birkbeck College

Professor Dorothy Griffiths OBE FCGI, Imperial College

Professor Frank Land OBE, FBCS, FAIS, London School of Economics

Susie Orbach, psychotherapist

Professor Diane Reay, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Henry Maitles, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of West of Scotland

Craig Hammond, Senior Lecturer Education Studies, Liverpool John Moores University 

Rania Hafez, Senior Lecturer Education & Community Studies, University of Greenwich 

Professor Steven Rose, Open University

Professor Catherine Rottenberg, University of Nottingham

Professor Colin Eden, University of Strathclyde

Professor Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter

Professor James Dickins, University of Leeds

Professor Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Elizabeth Dore, University of Southampton

Dr Robert Boyce, London School of Economics

Professor Hilary Rose, University of Bradford

Professor Neve Gordon, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Colin Green, University College London

Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, University of East London

Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton

Professor Richard Seaford, University of Exeter

Professor David Wield, Open University

Professor Donald Sassoon, Queen Mary, University of London

Professor David Mond, University of Warwick

Professor Avi Shlaim, University of Oxford

Professor John Yudkin, University College London

Professor Robert Wintemute, King’s College London

Professor Mica Nava. University of East London

Professor Des Freedman, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Andrew Samuels, University of Essex

Professor Ailsa Land, London School of Economics

Dr Justin Schlosberg, Birkbeck

Professor David Graeber, London School of Economics

Professor Miriam David, UCL Institute of Education

Professor John Chalcraft, London School of Economics

Professor Erica Burman, University of Manchester

Professor Alex Callinicos, King’s College London

Professor Harriet Evans, Emeritus Professor, University of Westminster 

Professor Karma Nabulsi, University of Oxford

Professor Kamel Hawwash, University Birmingham

Professor John Parrington, University of Oxford

Bernard Sufrin, Emeritus Fellow & Tutor, Worcester College, Oxford University 

Iain Ferguson, Honorary Professor, University of West of Scotland

Amanda Martin, President, National Education Union

Louise Regan, Membership and Equality, National Education Union

Kiri Tunks, Past President, National Education Union

Daniel Kebede, National Executive, National Education Union (Equality Seat for Black Members) 

Emma Mort, National Executive, National Education Union

Jess Edwards, National Executive, National Education Union

Sarah Carter, National Executive, National Education Union

Alex Kenny, National Executive, National Education Union

Warren Chambers, National Executive, National Education Union

Kauser Jan, National Executive, National Education Union

Sally Kincaid, National Executive, National Education Union

Stefan Simms, National Executive, National Education Union

Gawain Little, National Executive, National Education Union

Simon Murch, National Executive, National Education Union

Deirdre Murphy, National Executive, National Education Union

John Reddiford, National Executive, National Education Union

Karen Parkin, National Executive, National Education Union

Chris Denson, National Executive, National Education Union

Robin Head, National Executive, National Education Union

Anne Swift, National Executive, National Education Union

Karen Williams, National Executive, National Education Union

Ian Watkinson, National Executive, National Education Union

Mairead Canavan, National Executive, National Education Union

Debra Beale, National Executive, National Education Union

Jerry Glazier, National Executive, National Education Union

Debs Gwynn, National Executive, National Education Union

Sheena Wheatley, National Executive, National Education Union

Phil Clarke, National Executive, National Education Union

Philipa Harvey, National Executive, National Education Union

Dawn Taylor, National Executive, National Education Union

Jean Evanson, National Executive, National Education Union

Dominic Coughlin, National Executive, National Education Union

Carlo Morelli, Scotland President, University and College Union

Julia Roberts, National Executive, University and College Union

Sean Vernell, National Executive, University and College Union

Margot Hill, National Executive, University and College Union

Sean Wallis, National Executive, University and College Union

Julie Hearn, National Executive, University and College Union

Hugh Lanning, Ex Deputy General Secretary, Public & Commercial Services Union, human rights activist

Charlie Reid, singer, The Proclaimers 

Peter Ahrends, RIBA architect

Elaine C Smith, actress

John Smith, artist, filmmaker 

Anthony Neilson, writer, director 

David Harrower, writer

Peter Mullan, actor 

Tam Dean Burn, actor

Ben Jamal, Director, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Lindsey German, National Convenor, Stop the War Coalition 

Tony Higgins, former footballer

Phil Vasili, scout, Coventry City FC

Thelma Walker, former MP

Laura Smith, former MP

Holly Rigby, National Education Union activist

Julia Bard, journalist

David Rosenberg, author

Dave Sherry, Vice Chair, Glasgow Unite Retired Members Branch 

Dr Donny Gluckstein, Edinburgh College

Dr Glyn Robbins, Housing and anti-racism campaigner

 4.   Full text of Letter 2 addressed to Show Racism the Red Card,  signed by 78 artists, filmmakers and writers: 

 We’re writing as artists who wholly support the work of Show Racism the Red Card to say we trust you will stand by your invitation to our colleague Ken Loach to judge this year’s schools’ design competition.

It would be damaging for the struggle against racism in all its forms if SRtRC were to succumb to political pressure on this point.

Ken Loach’s career as a film-maker has been devoted to making visible the lives of marginalised and disregarded people.   His work takes us inside those lives, fosters empathy, and revives our sense of solidarity with our fellow citizens’ struggles for equality and justice.

When you invited him to be a judge, we understand you had these qualities – and more – in mind.   We agree with chief executive Ged Grebby when he said of Loach and fellow judge Michael Rosen, ‘I can’t think of two people better qualified to choose the winners’.

Your decision is being attacked on the grounds Ken Loach allegedly fails to acknowledge the presence of antisemitism in our society.   He has previously defended himself against this, and worse, allegations (see for instance this letter from him in The Guardian).   But the attacks continue. 

We know Ken Loach, and indeed Michael Rosen, as life-long and consistently outspoken advocates for progressive causes.   In our fractious and still deeply racist society, their work promotes decency, understanding and kindness. SRtRC needs to stand by its invitation to both of them.  

Khalid Abdalla   actor

Tariq Ali   writer, editor, broadcaster

Candace Allen    writer

Roy Battersby   filmmaker

Sarah Beddington   artist, filmmaker

Iciar Bollain   screenwriter, film director

Howard Brenton   playwright

Victoria Brittain   writer

Dr Mark Brown    theatre critic

Niall Buggy   actor

Antonia Caccia   director

David Calder   actor

Carmen Callil    publisher, writer, critic

Julie Christie   actor

Caryl Churchill   playwright

Steve Coogan   actor, comedian, producer

Dror Dayan   filmmaker

April De Angelis   playwright

Andy De La Tour    actor

Jeremy Deller   artist

Ivor Dembina   comedian

Brain Eno   musician

Nancy Elan    violinist

Andrew Feinstein    author, filmmaker

Mike Figgis   filmmaker

Bella Freud   designer

Peter Gabriel  musician, founder of Womad music festival 

Gali Gold   film programmer 

David Gray    singer songwriter

Lee Hall    screenwriter

Abe Hayeem    chair, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine

Waris Hussein    film director

Gemma Jackson    production designer

John Keane  artist

Brigid Keenan    writer

Reem Kelani    musician

Peter Kennard      artist

A.L. Kennedy     writer

Peter Kosminsky     screenwriter, director

Adam Kossoff     artist, filmmaker

Line Langebek   screenwriter

Paul Laverty   screenwriter

Mike Leigh   screenwriter, director

Mike Lerner    producer

Sonja Linden   playwright

Miriam Margolyes OBE    actor

Jehane Markham    poet

Kika Markham   actor

Pauline Melville    writer

Nicholas Mirzoeff   writer, cultural theorist

Jenny Morgan   director

David Morrissey   actor

Laura Mulvey    professor of film

Rebecca O’Brien    producer

Pratibha Parmar    director

Virginia Pitts     filmmaker

Leon Rosselson     songwriter, children’s author

Sir Mark Rylance    actor

Alexei Sayle    writer, comedian, broadcaster

Seni Seneviratne     poet

Jasleen Sethi    director

Nabil Shaban   actor, writer, filmmaker

Farhana Sheikh    writer

Gillian Slovo    writer

Robyn Slovo   producer

Chris Somes-Charlton   artist manager

Maggie Steed   actor

Juliet Stevenson    actor

Tom Suarez   violinist

Chris Thomas   filmmaker

Di Trevis     theatre director

Cat Villiers    director

Harriet Walter DBE     actor 

Roger Waters    musician

Eyal Weizman     director, Forensic Architecture

Hilary Westlake    theatre director

Penny Woolcock    screenwriter, director

Ben Woolford    producer

  5.  PERSONAL STATEMENTS submitted by artists, filmmakers and writers to the Trustees of SRtRC:

As the son of a Holocaust survivor who lost 39 members of her family in the camps, as the first Member of Parliament to introduce a motion on Holocaust Remembrance in the South African Parliament while serving under Nelson Mandela, and as a writer who has published on genocide and mass atrocity prevention, a topic on which I have lectured at Auschwitz for the Auschwitz Institute, I would like to unreservedly support Show Racism the Red Card’s 2020 School Competition to find ‘the most inspiring and original creative designs produced by young people on the theme of anti-racism’.   I would also like to endorse SRtRC’s decision to use Ken Loach and Michael Rosen as judges for the competition. Both are committed anti-racists whose lives and work have been dedicated to fighting racism in all its forms, to the exposing of inhumanity, to the pursuit of justice, equality and respect. The criticism of their selection by the Jewish Board of Deputies, an organisation that does not represent me or, in fact, the majority of British Jews, is yet another attempt to conflate criticism of Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian Territories with antisemitism. This conflation is false and extremely dangerous, as it undermines the real and essential struggle against antisemitism and all forms of racism.
Andrew Feinstein, author, filmmaker

It is preposterous to call Ken an antisemite.   Ridiculous, in fact.
Mike Leigh, screenwriter, director 

His entire career has been to shine a light on the plight of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.   His films have given a voice to the voiceless. For him to be castigated by the likes of Sajid Javid is shameful.   Ken Loach’s legacy will remain long after his critics have gone.
Steve Coogan, actor, comedian  

I am not an Artist for Palestine.   I am an artist for all people, all life.   I am not aligned with any political cause other than the defense and celebration of life on this earth, all life.   I do not feel qualified to comment on Palestine. I grieve the suffering in all violent struggles between people. I pray for peace.

I do however feel qualified to defend Ken Loach.   Defamation and libel of an individual have been crimes in the UK for many hundreds of years.   I am not a judge, but to me the active attempt to discredit Ken Loach is an act of defamation, a slander.   For me, Ken is a living example of the finest artists that have lived amongst us. He has always been highly sensitive to the suffering of the excluded in society and his sensitive storytelling has awakened compassion and justice in others.   His record and character are clear. From the evidence I have seen, to try to turn him into an enemy of the Jewish people is misguided, to say the least. Ken has had the grace to answer his accusers, clearly and without doubt. He is not nor has he ever been a denier of the Holocaust.   An apology should now be forthcoming from his accusers or they risk seriously damaging their own much needed work defending Jewish people against real antisemitism.
Sir Mark Rylance, actor

Ken Loach is a man who has dedicated his life to anti-racism.   He is anti-Zionist, he is NOT antisemitic. There is a difference.
Mirian Margolyes OBE, actor

Ken is someone I deeply admire and have known for years.   He defines decency.
Mike Figgis, film director

It’s vital that we resist the current trend that conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism.   Calling Ken Loach an antisemite is ridiculous and succumbing to that train of thought is sad and stupid.   These are dark days in which racism is rearing its ugly head – I have personally witnessed two blatant incidents in the last week. Attacking people who have spent their lives fighting discrimination is misplaced and depressing.
Penny Woolcock, screenwriter, director 

 I endorse Ken Loach as a compassionate advocate for human rights as well as a unique filmmaker.
Waris Hussein, film and television director 

 Ken Loach is an important role model for many young British people, not only for his creativity in telling stories from our society which they can recognise, but also because of his moral record in standing against racism and all forms of injustice.    The accusations of antisemitism made against him have been refuted many times. His long record of solidarity with all those, including Palestinians, whose lives are scarred by racist violence, makes him an icon for the next generation.
Victoria Brittain, writer

As a British-Jewish (four Jewish grandparents, family in Israel, family names on the lists of the murdered at Auschwitz) writer on visual culture, Ken Loach has always been there.   From the classic Kes when I was a child to recent award-winning films like I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach has shown how to use film and visual culture to tell different stories and to advance social justice.   He’s been an ally in the best sense.
Nicholas Mirzoeff,  author (The Appearance of Black Lives Matter, How to See the World)

Removing great artists like Ken Loach from the SRtRC panel of judges would be a dangerous step on a slippery slope.   What next? The McCarthy Tribunals?   The burning of books?
Pauline Melville, writer

 Ken Loach has never sought to conceal his support for Palestinian self-determination and has defended the beleaguered Palestinian population against the daily violence to which it has been and is being subjected.   If this is now considered antisemitic, then Ken Loach is not alone. A majority of the Scottish and Irish populations and a significant percentage in England and Wales are no different from Loach.   
Tariq Ali, writer, editor, broadcaster

I will always support Ken Loach.   A true defender of human rights.
Niall Buggy, actor

 Ken Loach is the kind of human being who defends justice everywhere. 
Carmen Callil DBE, publisher, writer 

Ken Loach is what any conscious artist should be, creating socially relevant art which forces us to think about our society and the way we treat each other, about the importance of solidarity and of sticking together.   But the special thing about Loach is that his principles carry on beyond his art and into his actions as an individual in this society. It is for this principled stance that he is now under attack. If Loach’s films have taught me anything, it is that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that people must come together to defend each other against the wrongdoings of the system.   Now we must do precisely this – come together and support Loach against those malicious attacks.
Dror Dayan, filmmaker

Ken Loach is highly esteemed and loved in France,  Germany and much of the world for the exposing of extreme inequalities and suffering and the dismantling of human rights under this government in his films.   Both Rosen and Loach represent the highest principles and ideals in a society and world that are threatened with increasing racism and violence. We should cherish them.
Kika Markham, actor

Artswatch Palestine: September – December 2019

Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians 

Cádiz – and London

On December 20th the press office of the City of Cádiz announced that the Cádiz Court (Juzgado de Instrucción número 1 de Cádiz) had dismissed a case brought by the pro-Israeli organisation, ACOM against the Council’s decision to cancel a festival of Israeli films, organized in collaboration with the Israeli Embassy in Madrid and set to take place in a municipal building.

The court’s decision overturns an earlier ruling. In making it, Judge Maria del Carmen Fornell found that ‘the suppression of the Israeli film cycle does not rest on antisemitic motives or exclusion on the grounds of nationality, nor does it demonstrate contempt for elementary norms of coexistence or dignity of the person.’

Responding to the decision, the Mayor of Cádiz, José María González, said that the cancellation of the film festival was ‘not an act of hate, but an act of love and respect for Human Rights, framed in defence of the freedom of the Palestinian people, in the rejection of the illegal Israeli occupation and apartheid.’

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Aurora: Don’t be a sword, cancel Tel Aviv

Aurora says she is a lily, not a sword. As Palestinian and Israeli musicians, we urge her to be true to her word, by refusing to let her music and image be exploited as a weapon of propaganda by the far-right Israeli apartheid regime. Israel explicitly uses all international artists to cover up oppression, particularly those who consciously dismiss moral appeals for them to refuse shows at complicit Israeli cultural institutions.

Barby Club in Tel Aviv, where Aurora is booked to perform two shows in November, is one such cultural institution. Barby brazenly wears its complicity like a badge of honour, most clearly when it handed out free t-shirts to Israeli occupation  forces engaged in the 2014 massacres in Gaza that left more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, dead.

These t-shirts were emblazoned with the phrase “fuck you, we’re from Israel” alongside the club’s own logo, who proudly posted images online. This incident alone should be enough to stir the conscience of any progressive artist, especially Aurora’s, whose own sense of morality is surely troubled by such a glaring example of a hyper-militarised society meshing seamlessly with culture, as it does in apartheid Tel Aviv today.

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Aldeburgh DocFest disinvites author, invites Israel lobby CEO to discuss ‘GAZA’

On Sunday, Aldeburgh Documentary Festival will host a discussion that follows a screening of the acclaimed documentary ‘GAZA’, a film about Palestinian lives in the besieged enclave. Extraordinarily, the panel is advertised to include the CEO of the UK’s biggest pro-Israel public relations group, BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research). 

Clearly something has gone very awry with programming principles at Aldeburgh DocFest.  

Below, journalist and author Sarah Helm who has been reporting from Gaza during the ‘Great March of Return’ protests, describes how she was invited, and then disinvited, from the GAZA panel at Aldeburgh DocFest. Her statement gives an indication of the confused and troubling logic at work behind the scenes. 

It can never be appropriate or ethical for an independent cultural organisation to provide a platform for a PR company for Israel that is overtly complicit with the oppression of Palestinian people.  Filmmakers and audiences deserve better.

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Open letter: the demand that artists disavow BDS is not a legitimate request

A museum in Aachen, Germany, has defied the city’s Mayor, who had said that respected artist Walid Raad should not be awarded the €10, 000 Aachen Art Prize, because, following the city’s inquiry, the artist had apparently “not distanced himself” from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. The Association of Friends of the Ludwig Forum for International Art must now find an alternative venue for the award ceremony due the Mayor’s intervention and effective ban.

Today, a group of artists, academics, Jewish and Palestinian human rights defenders have addressed an open letter to Marcel Philipp, Mayor of Aachen. Artists for Palestine UK is happy to reproduce the letter below, in English.

*To add your name contact:
*Deutscher Text folgt dem Englischen

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Palestinian and Israeli Artists Urge Aurora: Don’t Play Israel!

Norwegian pop star Aurora is booked to play Tel Aviv on November 14th and 15th. Palestinian artists, and Israeli artists, have each launched appeals to the singer. 

Artists for Palestine UK is pleased to host both letters below.

Palestinian artists to Aurora

Dear Aurora 

It is with great regret we have become aware of your planned performance in Tel Aviv in November. You have quickly become one of the great new names in the international popular music scene, including among Palestinians and other Arabs. Regardless of your intentions, your decision to perform in Tel Aviv will be seen as endorsing Israel’s whitewash of its occupation and denial of human rights to Palestinians. 

Israel is intensifying its decades-old regime of oppression against Palestinians, especially its theft of Palestinian land and resources to build more illegal settlements and apartheid walls. UN investigators have concluded that Israeli occupation forces’ intentional targeting of journalists, medics, children and disabled people with sniper fire in Gaza “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity”. Moreover, Israel’s 12-year-old siege of Gaza has reduced it into an “unliveable” territory, according to the UN. Israel’s military occupation counts per-capita calories allowed into Gaza to keep the two million Palestinians there on the verge of starvation.

Given this reality, many celebrities, including Lana del Rey, Lorde and Natalie Portman, have cancelled scheduled events or performances  in Israel. As during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, such expressions of solidarity by artists sends the right message that they will not lend their names to covering up Israel’s oppression and that they stand with the oppressed Palestinians, including artists, who are not allowed to travel freely to share our art and culture.   Continue reading

Artswatch Palestine: April – August 2019

Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians 

Our findings suggest that sniper bullets manufactured by Sierra were used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against civilian protesters in Gaza in 2018″
Forensic Architecture, May 2019.
photo: Natchez Shooters Supplies

Art and Power

The submission of the research group Forensic Architecture to the 2019 Biennial at the Whitney Museum in New York included an extensive investigation into the use of tear gas and bullets manufactured by companies led by Warren Kanders, a Whitney vice chair.

The companies’ products had been used against migrants at the US-Mexico border wall and in other states including Bahrain, Turkey and Kuwait.

Subsequently, Forensic Architecture discovered new evidence that directly linked the weapons manufacturer to Israel’s violence on the Gaza ‘border’.  The evidence, reported HyperAllergic on 20th July, took the form of an ‘unexploded open-tip bullet in the sand surrounding the Al-Bureji protest camp near the border’The bullet was intact and matched the analysis that Forensic Architecture had conducted on ammunition manufactured by one of Kanders’ companies, Sierra Bullets.

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Open letter to UK artists booked for Pop-Kultur Berlin 2019


Dear UK artists booked for Pop-Kultur Berlin festival 2019,

Artists for Palestine UK has joined the call from Palestinians, and also from Israeli artists and Israeli human rights defenders, and from LGBTQI+ campaigners in Berlin, for participating artists to withdraw from Pop-Kultur Berlin 2019, in protest at the festival’s continued partnership with the Israeli embassy.

As you may know, the far-right Israeli government cynically exploits the arts to improve its image abroad and to distract from state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against millions of Palestinians on the basis of their identity. For this reason, Palestinians asked Pop-Kultur Berlin to end its partnership with the Israeli state.

Art matters. The arts should not be used to whitewash a regime whose apartheid character has become explicit and undeniable.

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Israeli artists: Boycott Pop-Kultur Berlin festival

We are proud to publish the following open letter from Israeli artists in support of the Palestinian call to boycott Pop-Kultur Berlin festival.

[Deutscher Text folgt dem Englischen]

‘As Israeli artists, musicians, and filmmakers, we support the Palestinian call to boycott Pop-Kultur Berlin festival 2019, given its complicity with Israel’s racist regime. 

So long as Pop Kultur continues to have the Israeli embassy as a partner, all appearances at the festival will be exploited by the Israeli government as part of its efforts to whitewash its occupation and rebrand itself through culture.

We recognise that there is an urgent moral need to end the Israeli government’s decades-long oppression of millions of Palestinians, and that boycotts rooted in international law and universal principles of human rights are a legitimate, nonviolent, time-honoured tactic. 

We are dismayed that the festival director last year wrongly condemned BDS as “antisemitic” in defending their partnership with the Israeli embassy. Even Avi Primor, himself a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, agrees that “the leitmotiv of the BDS movement is justice for the Palestinians”.  Continue reading

Boots Riley, Naomi Klein among 100+ figures demanding free speech on BDS movement for Palestinian rights

Over one hundred high-profile artists and public figures are expressing dismay at political repression against  the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, slamming “attempts in Germany to impose political conditions” on artists such as Talib Kweli (pictured).  In an open letter published in the Guardian (and copied below), a broad range of artists from all fields and genres signed but also figures  from the field of human rights including: Index on Censorship, Patrisse Cullors co-founder of Black Lives Matter, human rights lawyer and former judge Sir Stephen Sedley, and philosopher Judith Butler.

“We are shocked that Open Source Festival, Düsseldorf has disinvited black American rapper Talib Kweli, leading to the cancellation of his Germany tour, after he refused to denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Attempts in Germany to impose political conditions on artists who support Palestinian rights, particularly targeting black, POC and queer artists, comprise a shameful trend of censorship, anti-Palestinian repression, and attacks on freedom of conscience.

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‘UK government must end isolation of artists from Gaza’: hundreds of academics and artists speak out

The letter  below criticises the UK government’s shameful ‘hostile environment’ policy, as it impacts  on artists, and in particular artists from Gaza. Israel’s policies have brought Gaza to the brink of economic, social and ecological collapse. To refuse visas to individuals who use all their efforts to be productive and creative in the face of dire circumstances, largely brought about by Israeli policy, makes the UK an accomplice in a strategy of collective punishment.
*UK-based academics and artists can sign the letter here.*

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Mike Leigh, Leila Sansour, Pratibha Parmar, Ken Loach and others say UK cinemas should boycott Israeli film festival Seret

In our letter published in the Guardian yesterday and copied below, 20 British filmmakers and writers including Mike Leigh, Leila Sansour, Ken Loach and Prahitbha Parmar criticise the hosting of an Israeli government sponsored film festival in the UK. 

The letter cites the findings of the recent UN report on Israel’s violence against Palestinians in Gaza.  It compares celebrity and business protests against Brunei over its new anti-LGBT law, with those against Israel over its violence against the Palestinians.

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Artswatch Palestine: December – March 2019

*Photo: The play ‘Palestine: Year Zero’ cancelled a few days before premiere.

Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians 

A word in the mayor’s ear 

Last year, the ‘Cultural Loyalty’ Bill, which would have withdrawn funding from cultural productions deemed to be anti-Israel, failed to win the approval of the Knesset.

The Bill may have died, but its principles live on. 

Ha’aretz (9thDecember 2018) reports that Avigdor Yitzakhi, head of Israel’s state-run lottery, has successfully pressured the mayor of Kabul, a Palestinian-majority town in the north of Israel, to cancel a play whose plot involves the demolition of Palestinian homes.  Performances of ‘Palestine: Year Zero’ were cancelled a few days before its first performance.

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Brian Eno: Israel must not be allowed to use Eurovision as a propaganda tool

Brian Eno’s op-ed is published in today’s Guardian, and copied below.

“Those of us who make art and culture for a living thrive on free and open communication. So what should we do when we see culture becoming part of a political agenda? “Music unites,” says UK Eurovision entrant Michael Rice. What happens when a powerful state uses art as propaganda, to distract from its immoral and illegal behaviour? Everybody involved in the Eurovision song contest this year should understand that this is what is happening.

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Artswatch Palestine: September- November 2018

  • Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa (pictured) was on her way to Palestine Literature Festival when she was denied entry to her homeland,  held in a prison cell, then flown back to the United States.

Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians 

Dareen Tatour

Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet and citizen of Israel, was released from prison on September 20th. She had spent almost three years in jail or under house arrest. Her ‘crime’ was to post one of her poems on Facebook –  ‘Resist my people, resist them’.  In July this year, she was finally sentenced, on grounds of incitement to violence and support for terror organisations.   (Indictments for online incitement have tripled in Israel since 2014.)

In August, Tatour entered the special wing of Damoun Prison. She was classified as a ‘security’ prisoner and denied access to her phone and the internet. Her father was at first denied permission to visit her. He and Dareen’s mother were finally allowed to see her on 5 September, after Tatour had spent almost a month in prison. She was released with a suspended sentence hanging over her, to guard against further ‘incitement’.

The Loyalty in Culture Bill

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Judy Joo: Please stand with Palestinians

* In Gaza 97% of water is currently contaminated by sewage and/or salt due to the ongoing blockade of 1.7 million Palestinians living there (Oxfam)

Judy Joo is a chef, writer and restaurateur. We love the creativity of her work at London’s  Jinjuu — but we hate apartheid, so we’re hoping Joo will turn down the Israeli government-sponsored ‘Tel Aviv Round Tables’ food festival.  More than 70 chefs and food writers in the US are choosing to speak out against Israel’s violation of Palestinian land rights, water rights and basic human rights. Please join them Judy Joo!

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DJs, producers, electronic musicians join boycott of Israel en masse

Today a stream of DJs, producers, record labels, electronic musicians are speaking up for Palestine and endorsing the cultural boycott of Israel. Using the hashtag #DJsForPalestine, these artists and cultural producers say they are supporting the Palestinian call for boycott as a peaceful protest against the occupation, “for as long as the Israeli government continues its brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people”.

This collective action follows the pattern of a similar wave of bands, including  Portishead and Wolf Alice, who came out in protest using the hashtag #ArtistsForPalestine, shortly after Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza this May.

Caribou, the Discwoman collective, Laurel Halo, The Black Madonna, Ben UFO, Tessela, Truants, Ciel, DEADBOY, FourTet, Room4Resistance and many, many more joined together for this action.   Some artists added personal messages, for example Ben Thomson / UFO explained:

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Artists call for boycott of Israel-hosted Eurovision 2019 – UK signatories

Artists, musicians and writers from 18 different  countries have published an open letter in the Guardian which condemns the purported hosting of Eurovision 2019 in Israel, saying that the contest should be moved to a non-divisive location, and – citing the recent killing of large numbers of Palestinian civilians – to a country with a better human rights record.
  • Personal statements by international artists can be found here.
  • In addition to the selection of international names in the Guardian, see the full list of British signatories attached to the letter here:

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Artswatch Palestine: June-August 2018

Gaza – the war against culture

On Thursday, 9th August, at around 17.45, Israeli drones began firing missiles at the Sa’ed al-Mishal Cultural Centre on Aydiyia Street in al-Rimal neighbourhood, west of Gaza City.  The 5-story building which housed the centre was completely destroyed.

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