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British Jewish Theater Fans Protest Actors’ Group Wading Into Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Regent Street in London, England. Photo: Camilla Didriksen / Flickr

Over 300 British theatergoers have written an open letter denouncing the UK’s largest actors’ union for its advocacy during the May Israel-Hamas war, and its support for a rally that saw antisemitic activity.

Describing themselves as “regular, ticket-buying” fans, they urged the Equity Actors Union’s leaders not to choose sides in the Mideast conflict, and supported union members of who had been “disappointed and marginalized by the political actions” of its leadership.

On Tuesday, members of the theatergoer group also protested outside the union’s headquarters in Leicester Square, London, reported UK’s The Stage trade newspaper.

“Using their professional status, they announced an official Equity presence at the pro-Palestinian demonstration in London on May 22,” the letter said. “By doing this, they involved Equity … in a complex international conflict 3,000 miles away, in a fashion which is incompatible with the union’s duty to prioritize the well being of its members.”

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In a May statement, union President Maureen Beattie had called for the United Nations to sanction Israel for its conduct during the war. Five days later, she joined General Secretary Paul Fleming in urging members to support their “Palestinian comrades” by joining a the London march, which was the scene of widespread antisemitic chants.

Outraged by the episode, actor and former “The Pianist”, Maureen Lipman, resigned from the union after 54 years of membership — saying the march had “nothing” to do with the Palestinians and “everything to do with the Jewish people.”

Citing Lipman’s resignation, Thursday’s letter from theater fans said Equity broke its “commitment” stipulating that union members are “entitled to work in a safe space, a space free of fear, a space free of bullying and harassment of any kind”

“This crisis for Equity members also affects theatergoers,” it said. “Post-Covid we are longing to see live performances but are faced with the dilemma that some of those on stage and behind the scenes are no longer in a safe space.”

“Paul Fleming and Maureen Beattie have subsequently issued a statement claiming that Equity’s stance was balanced and that they stand against Hamas and against antisemitism,” it continued,.”Yet the pro-Palestinian demo in London on May 22 was so rife with hatred of Jews worldwide, that any anti-Hamas message was drowned out.”

In a statement to The Stage, Equity responded to the theatergoers’ letter and demonstration, saying: “Equity’s policy is overwhelmingly supported by our membership of every background. Our progressive position supports peace for Israeli and Palestinian artists, and stands opposed to terror whether from Hamas or the Israeli government.”

“The appalling rise of antisemitism across the world is something which Equity not just condemns, but actively fights against. This is done alongside our Jewish members, through defending individuals in the workplace, developing policies with activists to inform our collective work, and our solidarity with anti-racist campaigns.”

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