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.
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 cancelation.
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.
In a response letter to Leigh, Schorr wrote: "The students, teachers, artists, and various professionals who eagerly await your arrival are not the elected
Israeli government nor are they responsible for its policy. The nexus that you create by your de facto boycott between artistic and cultural bodies of work and the policy of the government that and the army is a disturbing and unfortunate generalization. We agreed that we would hold a press conference and that you could, as you see fit, express your serious reservations with Israeli policy. The reverberations of your statements would have been different had you made those statements here in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jenin."
"It would have granted you a real opportunity to reach many hears and minds and to directly appeal to public opinion and public consciousness," Schorr wrote. "It would have allowed you to touch the future and try to change reality. Instead, you chose to remain distant."
Another British director, Ken Loach, has been vocal in his support of a cultural boycott against Israel. Last year, he withdrew his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival to protest Israeli funding of another film participating in the festival.