EquityUK Receives Backlash, Loses Lead Actor After Asking Members to Support pro-Palestinian March

The actors' union EquityUK has faced steep criticism from politicians, campaigners and several high-profile British performers after it urged its members to join a recent pro-Palestinian march in London. Coronation Street actress Maureen Lipman resigned after the union put out the call encouraging participation in the demonstration.

It was last Saturday that Stop the War coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstrated against Israeli actions in the Middle East. Tens of thousands marched close to the Victoria Embankment in Central London in the demonstration that stretched across surrounding roads and blocked off traffic in several directions. Photos that emerged on social media showed anti-Israel protesters wielding antisemitic signs during the demonstration.

On Tuesday, Lipman, 75, who had been a member of the union for 54 years, condemned the union's president Maureen Beattie for sharing an online petition calling for sanctions against Israel in a personal way.

On May 20, Beattie tweeted on behalf of Alrowwad Theatre asking for support for the cultural-theatre training initiator Beautiful Resist and asking for people to join the upcoming march.

"Send a donation however small and/or please join us on the march on Saturday," she tweeted, re-tweeting EquityUK's general secretary Paul W. Fleming's appeal to members to support Palestinian comrades and Alrowwad Arts Centre.

Lipman condemned Beattie and told the UK's Daily Telegraph, "I didn't join a political union. I joined a union to protect its members. You don't dictate to artists what they believe in, and don't incite them to join a mob."

"How dare they demand sanction? Where is Maureen Beattie on the Uyghurs, Rohingyas, the Sudanese, the Yemenites?" she continued. Lipman said the issue of Israel had become an "obsession" for Equity, which she said is "stacked full of "Corbynistas."

maureen lipman equityuk resign palestine
Maureen Lipman, shown here at the Woman Of The Year Awards Lunch at Royal Lancaster Hotel on October 14, 2019 in London, England, has resigned her membership in the actors' union EquityUK. Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty

During Saturday's march, protesters also smashed cars while activists wore costumes, masks and face paint and waved Palestinian flags.

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism told Newsweek, "Equity should take a long hard look at themselves after associating with a march infested with anti-Semitic banners and other signs appearing to condone violence and where a speaker blamed Israel for racism against Jews."

"It is difficult to see how Equity can possibly pretend to represent their Jewish members when they turn a blind eye to anti-Jewish hate. It is therefore little wonder that Dame Maureen Lipman and others are resigning their memberships or considering doing so," the spokesperson continued.

That's while Lord John Mann, independent advisor to the U.K. government on antisemitism, called EquityUK's failure to protect its Jewish members "shameful."

"Equity is failing its Jewish members and its credibility as an organization serving actors is now in jeopardy. A union that ignores the discrimination against some of its members isn't worthy of being considered a union," he told Newsweek.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, which was also distributed to UK's Metro newspaper, EquityUK acknowledged it was "saddened" about Lipman's membership resignation.

"Any instance of anti-Semitism must be rooted out and condemned, including the abhorrent abuse that has been directed towards members of the Jewish community in the past couple of weeks, as well as the small minority of hateful banners and rhetoric present on recent and otherwise peaceful Palestinian solidarity marches," a EquityUK spokesman added.

"Equity stands in solidarity with the Jewish community and the fight against anti-Semitism, and is having ongoing conversations with our Jewish members and their allies on how we can continue to do so. The union has a long and proud history of standing up for peace and justice around the world," he continued.

Meanwhile, Lipman wasn't the only actress calling out the union with former Eastenders actress and activist Tracy-Ann Oberman, comedian Dom Joly and actor Sanjeev Bhaskar also voicing harsh criticism.

Oberman tweeted "If you went on a DEMO that held these banners then you have to ask what you're standing for," noting Beattie's and EquityUK's endorsement of the march. "How are UK Jewish performers and friends meant to feel safe?"

On the BBC's Newsnight, Oberman spoke to the massive antisemitism and violence on the streets of London, noting outside near where she lives a convoy of activists wrapped in Palestinian flags were calling for Jewish women and their daughters to be raped. She also mentioned that there had been no real apology from the union for its actions.

Joly described its urging as "truly disgusting" and Bhaskar noted the irony in Beattie's twitter banner that features her and others holding up banners that read 'Creating Safe Spaces'.

For her part, Lipman called on other Jewish performers to leave the union and noted she'd now donate her membership fees to charities for the victims of both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian violence.