The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Ken Loach to receive honorary doctorate, despite controversy

17:11 26/04/2018
ULB will award British director Ken Loach an honorary doctorate in Brussels, despite a call from Jewish organisations – and the prime minister – not to

Following a complaint by a professor emeritus of Brussels university ULB, prime minister Charles Michel has now spoken out against an honorary doctorate being awarded to British filmmaker Ken Loach.

Professor emeritus Jacques Brotchi, a neurosurgeon and former member of the Brussels parliament, told Le Soir this week that he was firmly against awarding Loach the doctorate. According to Le Soir, five Jewish organisations have also come out against it.

Loach is one of the most famous film directors in the world, known for his huge body of work that takes on a variety of social issues, from war to welfare services. His films include Ladybird Ladybird, Sweet Sixteen, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and, most recently, I, Daniel Blake, which severely criticised the UK’s red tape-mired social services.

He is an outspoken critic of Israeli policy against Palestine and is a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. He has pulled his films from festivals that were in any way sponsored by the country and tries to convince festivals to return this funding.

‘Reprehensible allegations’

Loach also recently criticised Labour Party MPs who joined a protest against anti-Semitism in London as he saw it as a slap in the face to party leader Jeremy Corbyn. According to Brotchi, this is all evidence of anti-Semitism.

At the same time, more than 25 ULB academics officially requested that the university stand firm and award the honorary doctorate to Loach. ULB rector Yvan Englert asked Loach to clarify his opinions about Israel and the Holocaust, which he did earlier this week.

“The Holocaust is an event that is as real as the Second World War,” Loach said. “I am fully aware of the history of Holocaust denial and its place in the politics of the extreme right. To claim that I would be doing something similar is reprehensible. All of my life, I’ve taken the side of those who are persecuted and marginalised, and to paint me as some kind of anti-Semite simply because I add my voice to those who denounce the distress of the Palestinians is grotesque.”

The university announced that it was satisfied and will go ahead with the ceremony tomorrow. But yesterday evening, prime minister Michel, speaking in the Great Synagogue of Europe in downtown Brussels, said that he found it “irresponsible” to award the doctorate to Loach. “Absolutely no form of anti-Semitism should be tolerated, whatever form that may be,” Michel said. “That holds true for my alma mater, too.”

Photo: Ken Loach at the Ghent Film Festival in 2016, where he presented his film I, Daniel Blake
©Nicolas Maeterlink/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw