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Protesters are escorted out of the Four Seasons Hotel by the police after interrupting the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony in Toronto, on November 13, 2023.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The 2024 Hamilton Jewish Film Festival, which was to be hosted by the Playhouse Cinema, has been postponed, with the venue citing security concerns. The festival’s organizing body has condemned the decision.

The Playhouse released a statement late Tuesday saying they chose to postpone following numerous security and safety related e-mails, phone calls and social media messages. In response, the Hamilton Jewish Federation, which organizes the annual event, said the decision was “a lost opportunity to engage the Greater Hamilton community in a Jewish cultural event during the highest rise of antisemitism we’ve seen in recent history.”

The Federation said in its statement that the pushback was from a “few individuals” who disdained any film produced in Israel. When asked to share specific details confirming the nature and extent of the complaints, the Federation directed The Globe and Mail to the Playhouse, whose management did not respond to multiple comment requests.

In an interview, Federation communications co-ordinator Jazmyn Rymberg noted that the films came from across the western world, including France and Poland. “The mission of the festival was to promote cultural inclusivity, and to give space for Jewish artistic expression,” Rymberg said. “All of these films present various Jewish contemporary experiences.”

This is the second venue change for the film festival’s 2024 edition. In December, the Federation was planning to screen films at the Westdale, another independent Hamilton theatre, but withdrew after the Westdale hosted a screening of the 2023 documentary Israelism, which takes a critical lens to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The Federation had initially hoped the Westdale would postpone the screening – which it briefly did. But after the theatre decided to resume the screening, Rymberg said, the Federation felt “it would just do nothing but inflame an already very difficult situation for the Jewish community.”

Numerous arts-and-culture event organizers and hosts have found themselves embroiled in public disputes and controversies since the Israel-Hamas war began last October. Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted the Scotiabank Giller Prize in November, prompting boos and walkouts, as well as an eventual open letter in support of the arrested protesters signed by several past Giller winners.

And in B.C, Victoria’s Belfry Theatre cancelled a March run of The Runner, Christopher Morris’s 2018 play about an Israeli emergency responder who makes a snap decision to give medical treatment to an Arab girl instead of a member of the Israel Defense Forces. Like Hamilton’s Playhouse Cinema, Belfry staff cited safety reasons for its decision.

Separately, this past January, Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival had said it would keep The Runner on its 2024 schedule, with organizers arguing that its programming was meant “to challenge ourselves and each other not only to think differently, but to feel differently.”

But the festival received continued pushback about the play’s portrayal of Palestinians. PuSh organizers ultimately decided to cancel The Runner’s run after speaking with U.K.-based Palestinian musician and visual artist Basel Zaraa, whose installation Dear Laila, a recreation of his childhood home in a Palestinian refugee camp, was also programmed for the festival.

“As Israel’s genocide in Gaza continues, I cannot agree for Dear Laila to be shown alongside The Runner, a play which reinforces dehumanizing narratives about Palestinians,” Mr. Zaraa wrote in a statement released by PuSh at the time.

With a report from J. Kelly Nestruck

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