Lively protest confronts Israeli film festival opening

Issue 

The Friends of Palestine WA (FOPWA) led a 50-strong protest of students, activists and Palestinians to boycott the opening of the Israeli Film Festival in Perth on August 20.

The boycott is part of the cultural component of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The BDS campaign calls on Israel to: End the siege and blockade of Gaza; End the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; Remove the illegal settlements and separation barrier; End its apartheid-like policies towards Palestinians; and Accept the right of return to all Palestinian refugees.

FOPWA called on the Luna Palace Cinemas to withdraw its sponsorship of the Festival.

"Our protest is not directed at the films or the film-makers, but at the Israeli government, which is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians," the event page said.

FOPWA representative Nick Everett told the crowd that cinema representatives said this year's opening night would be a "small" affair with no guest speakers compared to last year's gala event with the Israeli ambassador.

He said that last year the Festival opened in seven cities in Australia compared to four this year.

FOPWA is one of several Palestine solidarity organisations in Australia to have written to the management of the Luna Cinemas chain calling for the cinema to withdraw support from the festival backed by the Israeli government.

This year's festival featured some queer films. Everett said this was a deliberate ploy to make Israel appear progressive whereas the reality is that Israel's Pride Parade this year was attacked by an ultra-orthodox thug and that no marriage equality exists in Israel.

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This letter, sent to Luna Palace Cinemas on 23 March (to which we have received no reply), explains the reasons why we are advocating a boycott of the AICE Israeli Film Festival:

23 March 2015

Mr Antonio Zeccola
Managing Director
Palace Cinemas
Australia

Dear Mr Zeccola,

In 2004 the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called on global civil society to boycott Israeli cultural institutions, products and events as part of a peaceful non-violent world-wide movement to end the now 47 year military occupation of Palestine. This international movement, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), has had the endorsement of many leading political figures including a prominent figure in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Desmond Tutu.

The BDS movement is growing every day. The call to boycott has been respected by artists from all over the world. Just recently over 1000 artists in Britain became co-signatories to a declaration that they would not play in Israel. The BDS movement has requested that artists and cultural institutions not host Israeli artists who are funded by the state of Israel or by Israeli institutions that do not speak out against Israel's crimes against the Palestinians.

Israel has been blatantly trumpeting its use of cultural events to white wash its crimes for a long time. In 2006 the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs launched an initiative called Brand Israel to improve Israel's deteriorating image abroad. Ayre Mekel of Israel's Foreign Ministry has stated

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

Israeli Film Festivals are funded by the Israeli Embassy and are an important part of this re-branding exercise. The Israeli Government and its advocacy groups deliberately use culture as a means to improve its image in Australia where 69% of people view Israel negatively particularly since Israel’s monstrous assault on Gaza last year.

Palace cinemas have promoted these festivals in the past and so became an unwitting accomplice to Israel's normalization of its crimes.

We note that the 2015 Israeli Film Festival has not yet been publicized on your web-site. We ask you to consider respecting the international call to boycott these events and to not schedule the Israeli Film Festival in any of your Australian cinemas this year nor in future years.

Once the Israeli government ends the brutal occupation of Palestine, implements reparations and respects international law in its dealings with the Palestinians we will welcome Israeli culture in Australia.

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Cassar
Executive Committee Member

The following are co-signatories to this letter:

Adelaide BDS
Artists for Palestine
Artists Against Apartheid (Australia)
Alternative Information Centre
Australians4BDS
Australians for Palestine (Victoria)
Australian Friends of Palestine Association ( South Australia)
Australian Palestinian Professionals Association
Byron Friends of Palestine
Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (NSW)
Friends of Palestine WA (Perth)
Indigenous Social Justice Association
Jews Against the Occupation
Justice for Palestine Matters (Sydney)
Justice for Palestine (Brisbane)
Just Peace (Qld)
Palestine Community of WA Inc
Palestinian Support Network Australia
Women for Palestine