Clash at Phoenix Cinema: Protests Erupt Over Israeli‑Sponsored Film Festival

Brian Smith reports from North London.


The Phoenix cinema in North London was the scene on the evening of Thursday 23 May of a protest against the venue holding a private screening of Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre. The film is part of the Seret film festival sponsored by the Israeli state. According to the Guardian “the Phoenix cinema’s front of house staff and managers, have called on the venue’s directors and trustees to cancel the screening over the festival’s links to the Israeli culture ministry and the Israeli embassy in the UK.” Film makers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh also resigned in protest as patrons of the cinema.

“Film makers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh resigned in protest as patrons of the cinema.”

Cinemas that participate in the Seret film festival are ignoring the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel. They are benefiting from money from the Israeli state, making them silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Loach and Leigh had backed a boycott the Seret festival in 2015, but the genocidal war carried out today by Israel on Gaza makes boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions acutely urgent. 

Over 150 pro-Palestinian supporters had gathered on the pavement opposite the cinema for the protest Thursday night. But well over 1,000 hard-line Zionists and fascists had also mobilised. They were extremely aggressive and abusive, some seeking a physical confrontation. They shouted racist abuse at black pro-Palestinians, which the police ignored. Yet the police are investigating “say no to art washing” graffiti on the cinema as a potential “hate crime”.Despite the provocations by the Zionists and fascists, the pro-Palestinians protesters remained calm and eventually managed to retreat to the tube station while the police held back the thugs.

“Over 1,000 hard-line Zionists and fascists mobilised, seeking confrontation and shouting racist abuse.”

Hard-line Zionists and fascists have staged small counter protests during the massive Palestine solidarity demonstrations over the last few months. But they have not escalated this to a potential attack on Palestine solidarity activists, and mobilised in such numbers, as they did on Thursday. While this is new in Britain, but it is a worrying development that is happening elsewhere. Zionists and fascists violently attacked the pro-Palestine student camp at UCLA on the 30 April while police stood by for two hours. In Australia, similar attacks occurred at Monash university in Melbourne.

Hundreds of thousands have joined the dozen Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain since Israel launched its war on Gaza. All of them peaceful, with only handful of arrests. They have been not only massive, but also extremely broad as they included not just the solidarity activists from the left, the unions and the anti-war movement, but also Muslims and Jews.

“The unfolding genocide in Gaza has sparked a wave of disgust at Israel and humanitarian empathy for Palestinians.”

The reporting of the unfolding genocide in Gaza, which is impossible to ignore, has sparked a wave of disgust at Israel and of humanitarian empathy for Palestinians. The scale of these mobilisations around the world, the unprecedented decisions of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court against Israel, and the recognition of the state of Palestine by Spain, Ireland and Norway are making the state of Israel and its supporters desperate. This explains not only the rhetoric of Netanayhu, but the stepping up of mobilisations of Zionists and fascists. In a period of creeping fascism, these mobilisations are threat, not just political but also physical, that we must take seriously. The far right and neo-fascists, who back Israel, are predicted to do well in the European elections in early June, and this will embolden their allies in Britain. The fascists will not disappear if we ignore them. It is time for mass united mobilisations of the left, anti-racists and solidarity activists to defend our communities.

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