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Israeli film festival attracts protests

Around 40 figures from the British film industry have signed a letter, published in the Guardian, calling on cinemas not to host the London Israeli Film and Television Festival:

The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.

The signatories include Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, John Pilger, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes.

The festival’s founders reject this call:

The statement continued: “Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.

“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”

I thought Haaretz raised an interesting point in its coverage of the story:

The Guardian did not report whether the signatories believe British cinemas should refuse to screen Israeli films that received government grants.

According to PACBI guidelines, the Embassy’s involvement with this festival wouldn’t seem to have been required to trigger a boycott:

In general, PACBI urges international cultural workers (e.g. artists, writers, filmmakers) and cultural organizations, including unions and associations, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel, its lobby groups or its cultural institutions, or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global cultural sphere, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.

Here’s the last section of the letter again:

The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.

This is not a request to refuse to show films by individual film-makers, but to reject the involvement and financial support of the Israeli state. We call on these cinemas to stand with the oppressed Palestinian people and to take no part in presenting the festival.

It gives the impression that the money from the Israeli embassy was the deal breaker, a move which might be calculated to make its proposals seem more reasonable, more moderate, perhaps winning over even some agnostics on the boycott issue.

But it’s difficult to see how many of the films included in the festival – or indeed the festival itself as a celebration of Israel’s cultural achievements – could avoid (in some sense) ‘promot[ing] the normalization of Israel in the global cultural sphere’, as PACBI puts it.

So – do the signatories not endorse PACBI guidelines? Or was their special focus on the embassy’s involvement, as the one factor tainting a festival they would otherwise never have dreamed of interfering with, a little misleading?

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