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PACBI | 12 November 2010

PACBI's Position on the Other Israel Film Festival (New York)

PACBI has not issued a statement calling for a boycott of the Other Israel Film Festival (OIFF) not because we do not find it at fault and in violation of the PACBI boycott criteria, but simply because it is not defined as a high priority boycott target. This does not prevent PACBI, however, from fulfilling its mandate and duty to provide carefully thought out, accurate and measured advice when approached by artists (or academics) seeking our counsel about participating in it.

After studiously reviewing the details of the Festival, including its objectives and institutional links, PACBI reached the conclusion that the OIFF indeed violates in several points the Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel, [1] set by PACBI and endorsed by a large majority in Palestinian civil society, including by all the prominent artists. [2]  Accordingly, PACBI has advised conscientious filmmakers not to participate in this festival.

Palestinian and other artists, writers, academics and intellectuals who approach PACBI for advice in regard to any other project that seems to conflict with the boycott criteria make their own decisions based upon their moral and political principles and convictions.  PACBI's role in this regard is to uphold and promote adherence to the boycott criteria as well as to provide advice on the technical interpretation and application of these criteria, particularly pertaining to "grey-area" projects. PACBI fully respects the integrity, autonomy and freedom of expression and creation of all those who seek its guidance.


How does OIFF violate the cultural boycott criteria?

 

(1) In a recent statement, Mr. Isaac Zablocki, the Director of the Israel Film Center, OIFF's main partner, said: [3]


"The goal of the center is to share with the public these amazing [Israeli] cinematic achievements coming out of a country that is normally only seen through news headlines. Through our viewing library, screenings and promotion of films, we hope to share with the public a new slice of Israeli reality… an Israel filled with innocence, humor, and ideals."


This strikingly echoes the logic of the official Israeli propaganda campaign title Brand Israel, which aims to divert attention from Israel's violations of international law and Palestinian rights to its artistic and scientific achievements.  One of its main founders of the Brand Israel campaign, Arye Mekel, the deputy director general for cultural affairs in the Israeli foreign ministry, described it to the New York Times [4]:


"We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war."


A former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, explained upon launching the Brand Israel campaign in 2005: "We are seeing culture as a hasbara tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture."[5]

(2) In the website introduction to the OIFF, its founder and director writes [6]:


"The Other Israel Film Festival was founded to be a vehicle for cultural change and social insights into the nature of Israel as a democracy and the complex condition of the lives of its minorities that are living in the Jewish Sate. Israel's largest minority within its midst is the 1.7 [sic] million Arabs… It is not about the conflict - it is not about taking sides - this festival is about people.

Film can be a powerful tool, it can show new sides, change perceptions, and evoke emotions. Through the use of film we are provided with a human dimension that extends beyond the daily news bulletins. Film can explore the deeper meaning of everyday living. Through these films, the festival aims to present the lives, dreams and strengths of the Arab minority and to show their participation in Israeli life. …

I care deeply about Israel and its future. Growing up in a democratic Jewish state has without any doubt shaped the cultural and national identity of all of its inhabitants and citizens - who know no other home. These films and artistic expressions are paving the way to co-existence and a new, more inclusive culture in the Middle East."


Describing Israel as a "democracy," endorsing the oxymoron notion of a "democratic Jewish state," and avoiding taking a position consistent with international law and human rights is a form of whitewashing Israel's colonial and apartheid reality, [7] regardless of intentions. Instead of upholding equal rights for all, freedom, an end to the occupation, and speaking out against the institutionalized and legalized system of racial discrimination, that prevails in Israel [8], the OIFF website and project chose to cover up Israel's colonial and racist policies, portraying the state as a "democracy," albeit with some challenges.

(3) Some of the main partners of the Festival [9] are deeply implicated in policies and positions defending Israeli violations of international law and supporting Israel's multi-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people, including those inside Israel. Hillel, J Street, Hashomer Hatzair, Meretz USA, among others, are all implicated in defending Israel's racial exclusivity, or apartheid, and oppression against its indigenous Palestinian minority. Several have openly defended Israel's war crimes committed during Cast Lead in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip, ignoring the damning findings of the UN Goldstone Report and leading human rights organizations.

(4) Based on the above, PACBI views the Other Israel Film Festival as clearly in conflict with the Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel and will continue to advise any filmmaker who approaches us for an opinion not to participate in this festival in its current form and with its current institutional links and overall mission.


Notes:


[1] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047
[2] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=315
[3]
http://cultureshuk.com/2010/07/07/announcing-new-and-enormous-database-of-israeli-films-is-now-live/
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/world/middleeast/19israel.html
[5]
http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/about-face-1.170267?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.225%2C2.239%2C
[6] http://www.otherisrael.org/about-us
[7] Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law, A study by the Middle East Project of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, 2009, www.hsrc.ac.za/News-document-1146.phtml
Also:
http://bdsmovement.net/files/English-BNC_Position_Paper-Durban_Review.pdf

[8] Even the US State Department's annual human rights reports have consistently condemned Israel's "institutional, legal and societal discrimination against [its] Arab citizens." See, for instance, the 2009 Report: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/nea/136070.htm
[9] http://www.otherisrael.org/partners

 

Posted on 12-11-2010


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