The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel continues to gain leverage every day as more people become aware of Israel’s atrocities. Many argue that the BDS movement must penetrate every aspect of society for it to be fully effective at encouraging people to demand that Israel halt its policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against Palestinians. The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) has accordingly agreed to return funds provided by the Israeli Embassy to finance the visit of Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom-Ezer. While Ginnie Atkinson from the EIFF continues to insist that the decision was not politically motivated, she prefaces her explanation for the move by stating that:
…we probably do not have too distant views on the fundamentals.
Organizers of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) were later joined by prominent filmmaker and Palme d’Or winner Ken Loach in advocating for this action. On May 14 Loach courageously stated:
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.
George Galloway also issued a statement in support of the action:
If the film festival wants to continue to enjoy an outstanding international reputation it will not hesitate to return this tainted money to the Israeli embassy. I find it astonishing that a spokesperson for the festival accused those of us who want this money returned of ‘ghettoising’ film-makers. If there’s a prize for satire at the festival, contestants need to know that the result is a foregone conclusion. It is Israel that is herding the Palestinian people into the ghetto and, in the case of Gaza earlier this year, bombing to smithereens those it had taken the precaution to lock in.
If the festival does not do the right thing – morally, and commercially – then no self respecting artist or director should take part. Sense prevailed three years ago over this issue. I’m sure it will again.
Public outcry over Israel’s atrocities in Lebanon also forced the EIFF to reject Israeli funds in 2006.
After verbal support provided by noted individuals, the SPSC organized email campaign and notices of planned picket actions and other modes of protest, the EIFF finally rescinded their decision and publicly stated that they would reject the funding provided by the Israeli embassy on May 15.
Loach has since been called a “racist” by Shalom-Ezer who claims that she is part of the “peace camp” in Israel even though Loach never discouraged people from going to see her film and the EIFF has stated that they would be willing to personally fund Shalom-Ezer’s visit.
Shalom-Ezer’s statements were issued prior to recent news that armed Israeli soldiers attempted to shut down the British Council and UNESCO sponsored Palestine Film Festival in East Jerusalem. Performers, artists and festival-goers were forced to suddenly change venues in order to salvage the event with Israeli police vehicles joining them at the new location.
Attending scholar and activist Marcy Newman has commented on the importance of recognizing this event (which is one among many) as a form of cultural genocide.
Indeed, if Shalom-Ezer considers Loach and others who have joined the BDS movement against Israel by peacefully advocating for Israel to halt its aborrhent actions “racists,” then what does she make of events like the one described above? Certainly, we must support those within Israel who call for peace and justice for the Palestinians, but if they are sincere in their beliefs then they must also be able to extend their analysis to the all encompassing picture rather than take supporting actions personally.
In any case one thing is clear, the BDS movement is gaining support and proving to be increasingly effective as well as incorporating political debate into various elements of society. Those who condemn this action by arguing that politics should be separate from art need to also focus their attention on the Israeli government, who has been censoring and impeding Palestinian art and cultural events for decades.
As a related side note, Amira Hass of Haaretz reports that the Israeli government has even banned books and music from entering the besieged Gaza strip, which in addition to being forced to endure repeated Israeli bombing raids (the most recent of which left over 1,000 Palestinians dead in 1 month), have also been subjected to a crippling militarily enforced blockade since 2007.
Boycott, divest and sanction — it’s working.