Actors’ union accused of ‘straying from purpose’ by sending money to Gaza

Equity actors' union
Minutes of a meeting seen by the Telegraph show the donation was approved by members Imelda Staunton and Dame Judi Dench - Jeffrey Blackler

Britain’s leading acting union has been accused of “straying from its purpose” by sending money to Palestine by unhappy members.

Sources within Equity have complained that the organisation intended to represent performers is straying into irrelevant activities.

The Brighton branch of the actors union has used a fund to send a donation to support the Red Cross in Palestinian territories, according to those close to the process.

Minutes of a branch meeting seen by the Telegraph show the donation was approved overall by Johnny Worthy, a local member and trustee of the union, alongside Imelda Staunton and Dame Judi Dench.

According to the minutes, assurances were given that “not a sou” of the money would go to Israel.

The union has said the decision to send the money – understood to be a small sum – was voted through by members in accordance with proper procedures.

However, some Equity members expressed concerns that the union has used funds for an “irrelevant” cause, and that it is “straying” from its central purpose.

Jewish exodus from union

One local member has complained that Equity members engaging in irrelevant debates is putting off young performers who might otherwise take part in union activities.

Another former member raised concerns about the political culture within the union, saying “many Jewish members have left Equity since 2021 and they continue to do so”. They also complained that debates about the Middle East have “nothing to do with a union whose job is supposed to represent performers in the UK.”

There was a Jewish exodus from the union in 2021 when senior leadership backed calls to boycott Israel, prompting figures such as Dame Maureen Lipman to walk out.

Dame Muaureen warned the Telegraph at the time that Equity had become “stacked full of Corbynistas” and the issue of Israel had become an “obsession” amongst its members.

Dame Maureen Lipman speaking in solidarity with the hostages still held in Gaza at an event on March 10
Dame Maureen Lipman speaking in solidarity with the hostages still held in Gaza at an event on March 10 - Guy Bell

Union members called for mass action amid the 2021 crisis in Gaza, which was hit by airstrikes in a crisis triggered by security forces storming the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

A statement issued on May 30 that year, accredited to its general secretary Paul Fleming, concluded: “We stand in solidarity with Palestinians taking industrial action, and workers around the world taking action in support of them.”

Following renewed violence in the Middle East, Equity’s political stance again became a cause of concern among members who feared being “blacklisted” for having any connection to Israel.

Equity has stated the motion in Brighton to send money to what is understood to be a Red Cross and Red Crescent joint appeal for Gaza was done with the consent of local members.

A statement from the union said: “The motion went through the appropriate democratic process and was passed by branch members. In accordance with Equity’s branch standing orders, branch members are able to choose how to spend branch funds – including charitable donations – subject to a vote, so long as this does not conflict with the union’s rules.”