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Film director Ken Loach has withdrawn as a judge in the 2020 School Competition run by respected anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).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

NEWS RELEASE – Actors, writers and directors denounce demonisation of Palestinian theatre

Let audiences be the judge of Palestinian theatre on UK tour
(NB this original text differs slightly from the version published by the Daily Mail on May 8)

As theatre practitioners in Britain, we are alarmed that the Daily Mail is attacking the Arts Council and the British Council for supporting a UK tour by a Palestinian theatre company.

Your piece, with its inflammatory title UK taxpayers fund ‘pro-terrorist’ play, cites “concerns” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation with a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence. Only last month the University of Southampton succumbed to demonisation and threats and banned an academic conference on the legal status of Israel.

Neither the Daily Mail nor the Board of Deputies has seen Freedom Theatre’s play The Siege, yet both somehow feel qualified to suggest that it is “promoting terrorism”. Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites. This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.

The Palestinian West Bank, where the Freedom Theatre is based, has been under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. We endorse the words of British playwright Howard Brenton, an honorary director of the Freedom Theatre, who writes of the forthcoming tour:

“This is real political theatre, performed out of the both terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice. [The Freedom Theatre] are living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression. Do go and see them, they have news for us.”

Caryl Churchill
Dominic Cooke
April De Angelis
David Edgar
Lucy Kirkwood
David Lan
Miriam Margolyes
Paul Mayersberg
Maxine Peake
Mark Rylance
Jennie Stoller
Mark Thomas
Samuel West Continue reading

UK High Court backs shutdown of Israel conference

This piece by Asa Winstanley, originally published on Electronic Intifada, explains how Southampton University came to cancel an academic conference about Israel’s legal status following a campaign of vilification by pro-Israel lobbyists, including members of the Conservative-led UK government.

Letters from playwright Caryl Churchill and academics Hilary and Steven Rose contested the cancellation in the Guardian newspaper.

UK High Court backs shutdown of Israel conference

The High Court in London on Tuesday upheld the decision of the University of Southampton to cancel at the last minute an academic conference related to Israel, after speakers were deemed “controversial” by critics.

Israel lobby organizations (including the Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies of British Jews) had called for the conference to be canceled because critics of Israel like Ilan Pappe and Nur Masalha were due to present papers.

But those opposed to the conference (including Conservative former education minister Michael Gove and current communities minister Eric Pickles) ignored the fact that supporters of Israel were also due to speak at the conference. These included Alan Johnson of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and the ultra-right-wing Zionist historian Geoffrey Alderman.

Alderman last week used his regular platform in The Jewish Chronicle to argue that the Israel lobby had made a “massive own-goal” in getting the conference canceled since it would just make the pro-Israel argument look weak and unable to withstand scrutiny.

The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” scheduled for this weekend (17-19 April), had been more than a year in the planning.

Continue reading

Welsh gallery censors exhibition on historic Palestine after complaints by Zionist groups

An artist based in Wales whose work on the Nakba was censored following complaints from local Zionist groups, has said the actions ‘amount to the defacement of a piece of art and a censoring of artistic expression, something that should not happen anywhere in Britain, let alone at a publicly funded arts organisation.’

James Morris wrote to the management of Clwyd Theatre Cymru, after a decision was taken – without consulting the artist – to remove the captions accompanying his photographic series, Time and Remains, during the final week of a six-week exhibition at the theatre’s Oriel Gallery. In his letter to the Welsh theatre, he informed them he would be cancelling his scheduled artist’s talk on Friday 6 March, adding that ‘Any talk or public debate which could now take place would have to focus on what my exhibition has become, a censored art piece. It would have to be rescheduled and readvertised as such.’

The series, also known as ‘That Still Remains,’ documents the ‘scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.’ Morris is an artist and not a campaigner or activist. He writes in his introductory text the history that give his photographs their meaning:  Continue reading