Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Threats to Boycott Israel in Edinburgh

The Israeli Embassy in the UK offered 300 pounds sterling to the Edinburgh International Film Festival so that an Israeli filmmaker--Tali Shlaom Ezer--whose film was to be showed at the festival could attend.

Ms. Ezer's short film, "surrogate" was not political in nature. Nonetheless, when British film director Ken Loach threatened, on behalf of Palestinian groups in the UK, to boycott the entire festival if money from the Israeli government were accepted, the 300 pounds were returned to the embassy.

An e-mail campaign of sometimes rude and at all times inflammatory e-mails were sent by the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to the Edinburgh film festival and received a response the crux of which is that since the festival accepts funding from many countries: "Choosing not to accept support from one particular country would set a dangerous precedent by politicising what is a wholly cultural and artistic mission." In response, UK MP George Galloway's "RESPECT" party threatened to, amongst other things, picket the film festival and Mr. Loach, a party member, wrote that "I’m sure many film makers will be as horrified as I am to learn that the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel...The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation, and stay away."

To the festival's credit, they are themselves paying the 300 pounds for the Israeli filmmaker to attend, but the story does not end there. Open letters were exchanged between Loach and Shalom-Ezer and additional statements were made by each (according to YNet) that Loach was branded a racist and that Shalom-Ezer was never to have been censored. Shalom-Ezer's letter indicates that she considers herself a member of the Israeli peace camp, worries that boycotts against a country serve to increase resistance to that boycott and then invites Loach to her film.

Loach's letter begins by suggesting that those who oppose the boycott will label those that advocate it to be antisemitic, he comments on how Palestinians have called for a boycott so they must be heeded, mentions how Gazans are suffering and concludes that those who have opposed the boycott are "old hacks and right wing extremists."

Interestingly, two other Israeli films will be shown at the festival, but, presumably because there was no money from Israel to support their travel, there was no protest over their participation. There is also a Palestinian film scheduled to be shown at the festival, there has been no mention of special support for that film either.

What is the goal here in refusing money from Israel to allow an Israeli director to speak and attend a film festival featuring her non-political film? What benefit does anyone derive? The Israeli director, who seems supportive of peace is punished for her citizenship. One presumes that if she were a Canadian and had made the identical film but needed money from the Canadian government, thee would be no issue whatsoever. As an Israeli, however, it would be natural for her government to support her.

Do Palestinian groups win? Well, they forced a major international film festival to bend to their will, and had the festival not put up the 300 pounds, they may have silenced this director altogether. They generated considerable publicity, but in doing so, they've alienated an artist who likely supports a fair and just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The film festival doesn't really win either. They have to shell out money which would otherwise have been given to them, however, in their calculations, it was probably better to pay the 300, than risk the negative publicity of protests and a boycott of their entire festival.

At the end of all this, it's unclear how any Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank or anywhere else in the world are really helped either.

Shalom-Ezer's approach to Loach in her letter is one suggesting the power of art to bring people together. She suggests that she thinks that supporting culture, rather than limiting it is the path towards the elimination of prejudice. Loach's letter begins his logic with: Palestinians have asked me to boycott Israel, therefore, I must, who am I to deny them? It's hard to defend an argument that begins with this premise. Is Mr. Loach not a thinking person? Does he not have the capacity to choose what he wants and see write from wrong? If Israelis suggested that he boycott Palestinian films because of Palestinian terrorism, would he respond the same way? Mr. Loach also refers to Israeli state terror, a dubious accusation at best. How does he propose reacting to Palestinian terror?

Frankly, this whole story smacks of something more than a mere desire to encourage an end to Israeli occupation and promote justice for Palestinians. Surely Mr. Loach can find greater things to be outraged by than 300 pounds. Surely promoting dialogue is better than undermining it.

These two other blogs have covered this story far better than the post above. See here and here.

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