Looking For Eric, Melbourne Festival, and the Cultural Boycott

Rebecca O'Brien, Paul Laverty, Ken Loach, Kierston Wareing, Juliet Ellis and Leslaw Zurek at the Venice Film Festival 2007
Rebecca O'Brien, Paul Laverty, Ken Loach, Kierston Wareing, Juliet Ellis and Leslaw Zurek at the Venice Film Festival 2007

In response to an earlier attack by Richard Moore of the Melbourne International Film Festival, The Guardian published an edited version of a response (Boycotts don’t equal censorship) by Ken Loach, Paul Laverty and Rebecca O’Brien. Here is the original.

When we decided to pull our film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne film festival following our discovery that the festival was in part sponsored by the Israeli state we wrote to the Director Richard Moore with our detailed reasons. Continually he has dishonestly misrepresented us and does so again (Comment is Free 27th Aug ‘09) by stating that “to allow the personal politics of one film maker to proscribe a festival position…..goes against the grain of what festivals stand for.” Later “Loach’s demands were beyond the pale”. Once again Mr Moore, this decision was taken by three film makers, (director, producer, writer) not in some private abstract bubble, but after long discussion between us and in response to a call for a cultural boycott, including film festivals, from a wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society, including writers, film makers, cultural workers, human rights groups, journalists, trade unions, women’s groups, student organizations and many more besides. As Moore should know by now “The Palestine Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in April 2004, and its aims, reasons, and constituent parts are widely available on the net. This in turn is part of a much wider international movement for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction” (B. D. S.) against the Israeli State.

Why this growing international movement? Over the last 60 years Israel, backed by the United States, has shown contempt for hundreds of UN resolutions, the Geneva convention and has continually broken International law. It has demonstrated itself to be a violent and ruthless State as was clearly shown by the recent massacres in Gaza, and was even prepared to challenge international law further by use of phosphorous weapons. It flouts public opinion around the world, and no clearer example can be its determination to continue to build the wall through Palestinian territories despite the recent decision of the International Court. What does the international community do? Nothing but complain. What does the United States do? It continues to voice its “grave concern” while subsidizing the Israeli state to some 3 billion dollars a year. Meanwhile “on the ground” – (a good title for a film) Israeli settlers day by day, continue to take over more Palestinian homes and lands making a viable Palestinian homeland impossible. Normal life, with basic human rights, is now a virtual dream for most Palestinians.

Given the failure by international law and matching impunity by the Israeli state there is no alternative but for ordinary citizens to try their best to fill the breach. Desmond Tutu said “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of the international community – in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s. Over the past six months, a similar movement has taken shape, this time aiming at the end of the Israeli occupation.”

Naomi Klein makes a very good point when she says there is no exact equivalency between Israel and South Africa. She says “the question is not “Is Israel the same as South Africa?”, it is “do Israel’s actions meet the international definition of what apartheid is?” And if you look at those conditions which includes the transfer of people, multiple tiers of law, official state segregation, then you see that, yes, it does meet that definition – which is different than saying it is South Africa. No two states are the same. It’s not the question, it’s a distraction. “ Not long after the Gaza invasion we spoke to the head of the Human Rights organization there who told us that the Israelis were refusing enough chemicals to adequately treat the civilian water supply; clear example of vindictive collective punishment delivered to one half of the population.

Neve Gordon, a Jewish political professor teaching in an Israeli university recently said “The most accurate way to describe Israel today is an apartheid state.” (Guardian 20th August.) As a result he too is supporting the international campaign of divestment and boycott. Maybe in the future there may be grave contradictions and grey areas as to whether a particular project is hit by the cultural boycott or not, but we feel duty bound to take advice from those living at the sharp end inside the country. We would also encourage other film makers and actors invited to festivals too to check for Israeli state backing before attending, and if so, to respect the boycott. Israeli film makers are not the target. State involvement is. In the grand scale of things it is a tiny contribution to a growing movement, but the example of South Africa should give us heart.

Ken Loach – Director
Rebecca O’Brien – Producer
Paul Laverty – Writer

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