HotDocs and CoPro: Entertaining Palestinian Voices

CoPro and HotDocs

Since the second that I’ve realized that the only political action left for people who wish to see Palestinian rights realized is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, it’s been immediately clear that the Palestinian produce and services, and culture and narrative would have to be simultaneously promoted. This would prove to be tricky after 60 years of ongoing ethnic cleansing and simultaneous economic buildup. The systems that have formed in Israel for the benefit of the Palestinian population have often artificially separated the “social” from the “political” and created institutions that are unable and unwilling to truly improve Palestinian lives. Without political analysis, we are left with institutions that’s sole purpose is to serve as a fig leaf, depicting Israel as a state which promotes Palestinian social care and voices, when in fact, all they do is pat themselves on the back for boxing the Palestinian population into a perpetual state of dependence and forced gratitude.

Captive Markets- Captive Narratives

If any of the above sounds familiar, it’s because the banality of the evil of economic elites is rather a global phenomena. The economic apartheid, the geographic/socioeconomic apartheid are held in place with a cultural apartheid. Those who have the resources either don’t see those who’s backs they are profiting off of, or worse yet- they create their own orientalized vision of them.

Look at that last sentence: Who’s active and who’s passive? Who’s the subject and who’s the object?

Usually, to explain BDS, I give the simple example of boycotting Nike factories using sweatshops in “third world” countries. This example clearly shows the cause and effect of the boycott and divestment tactics and the direct effectiveness of economic activism (i.e. sanctions). This example, however, doesn’t touch on the reasons why Nike executives would think it reasonable to exploit little Asian children. Those are the incidences when Israel serves as a perfect, condensed illustration of a global and racist economic exploitation system. Nowhere in the world has narrative spinning been so blatantly used as in Israel, in the past 7 years:

Weinberg said that by only discussing Israel in terms of its conflict with the Palestinians, “you have a narrow bandwidth, where Israel can only win some of the argument. We are trying to broaden the bandwidth to include Israel’s accomplishments…We’re not saying there should be no more discussion of political policy,” he said, “only that we have to change the mix. Let’s not spend almost all of our time on it. We need a strategy that includes more positive imaging.”

And so it is that Israel’s Hasbara is that perfect “mix” between orientalizing “the other” and intentional blindness of “the other”’s existence all together, with an added bonus of rewriting Israeli identity as an ageist, male-oriented Americanized one:

”Americans don’t see Israel as being like the U.S… Americans know a lot about Israel, just not the right things.” They think of Israel as a grim, war-torn country, not one booming with high-tech and busy outdoor cafes… “That doesn’t mean Americans are anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian,” Sable said. “They just find Israel to be totally irrelevant to their lives, and they are tuning out, and that is particularly true for 18- to 34-year-old males, the most significant target in such studies.”

CAIA Vs. HotDocs and CoPro

What triggered this article is the latest planned collaboration between the Canadian film festival, HotDocs, and the Israeli Documentary Marketing Foundation, CoPro:

Copro is the first and only organization of its sort in Israel that serves as an independent marketing channel for documentary films.

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) (a coalition of Canadian individuals, groups and organizations working to end Canadian state complicity and profiteering from the Israeli apartheid regime) has issued a call to action [second headline]:

We are asking filmmakers, artists, organisations and individuals to write to Hot Docs Executive Director Chris MacDonald at cmcdonald@hotdocs.ca and demand that Hot Docs stop working with cultural institutions supported by the Israeli state. A sample letter can be found here.

The CAIA explains perfectly why HotDocs should disengage its business with CoPro:

CoPro 13 is organized by CoPro Documentary Marketing Foundation whose funders include the Israel Film Council, an official part of the Israeli Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Golan Heights Winery, which operates illegally in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. CAIA calls on Hot Docs to respect the cultural boycott of Israel and to cease working with cultural institutions supported by the Israeli state and illegal settler organizations.

Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of Canada on Film Relations

As  I said, the CAIA explains perfectly why HotDocs should disengage its business with CoPro, but in order to understand internal politics- as the clear connection between CoPro and the abuse of original films, mostly depicting minority life, as state propaganda- I’d like to take a look at the 1978 Agreement between the Government of the State of Israel and the Government of Canada on Film Relations, that can be found on the CoPro website [Click Canada]:

The Government of the State of Israel and the Government of Canada desirous of promoting cooperation on film productions and wishing to encourage the coproduction of films that would enhance the prestige and contribute to the economic expansion of film industries in both countries…

One has to wonder about the state’s “enhancement of its prestige and economic expansion” via the documentaries of people who are in need of funding assistance. Is this really a win-win situation for all involved? Especially considering that Article II follows the above statement, stating that “[1] Films co-produced under this Agreement are considered national films.” and “[3] …shall be subject to approval after consultation between competent authorities of both countries: In Israel The Israel Film Centre [and] Ministry of Industry, commerce and Tourism. In Canada: the Secretary of State.” Well, obviously the Canadians take their cinema more seriously, but no matter who’s overlooking the project, Article VII clarifies who’s to gain from a modest documentary about the life of the downtrodden and disinherited:

[1] title credits and advertisement material for films co-produced under this Agreement shall indicate that the film is a co-production between the two countries.

Of course, you can’t have countries without citizens, so it’s very important to understand who counts as one:

All participants in the making of the film must be, with regard to the State of Israel, Israeli nationals or individuals who have been resident in the State of Israel for at least 6 months… [Article V, 1]

It’s only fair to mention that a very important clause follows, which allowed for the promoting of films such as “Arna’s Children” (non of which happen to be “Israeli nationals or individuals who have been resident in the State of Israel for at least 6 months”):

Actors or authors who do not fulfill the requirements of paragraph (1) of this Article may participate, in exceptional cases, and if the nature of the film so requires, by agreement of competent authorities of contracting parties. [Article V, 3]

Article V continues with 2 more clauses that were imperative for “Arna’s Children”, making sure we understand the border- of the aforementioned “two countries”:

[4] All laboratory work, recording, post-synchronisation and mixing shall be carried out within the territories of contracting parties.

[5] Studio shooting and location shooting shall take place within the territories of the contracting parties but any of the location shooting may be permitted by the competent authorities of the contracting parties to take place outside the territories of contracting parties if any of the technical aspects of production or the action of the film so requires.

The last clause of Article V is an amusing exercise in lack of self-awareness:

[6] Two final versions shall be made of the co-produced film, one in Hebrew and the other in French or English…

So here’s a local anecdote: Despite attempts to strip it of it’s official status, Arabic is still the official language of Israel. And to add a bit of a punch, the document ends with:

Done at Jerusalem on 29 March 1978 in duplicate in the Hebrew, English and French languages, all three texts being equally authentic.

CoPro: The Chosen People and the Good Arab

That’s enough of the straightforward captive-market/“boycott Nike sweatshops” argument. It’s the most effective way to make the economic-cultural boycott connection and bring people to action. That said, for those of you still interested in why Nike executives would think it reasonable to exploit little Asian children, I’d like to address the captive-narrative that is inseparable from the CoPro “social”-but-not-”political” agenda.

Let’s address the obvious first: How cynical is it that the Ministry of Foreign affairs (responsible for “other”-trashing gems such as the Gaza Facts – The Israeli Perspective page and the Hamas War Against Israel portal) is showing its pluralistic, tolerant face by allowing “Arab” (god forbid “Palestinian”) voices?

That was a rhetorical question, but you may be asking yourself a very serious question that merits an serious in-depth answer:

Why would the international-PR office of an apartheid state allow the voices of “the other” at all?

Indeed, this question demands a more in-depth exploration of the state of the State of Israel. It’s an interesting fact that in the past few years the Palestinian narrative has been showing up in the official Israeli cultural and entertainment spheres. Up until lately, the cultural strategy of the Zionist state was a complete erasure of the Palestinian narrative. It seems that 60 years on, the state feels it’s strong and stable enough to show its victims’ narrative while exploiting it for the promotion of its self-proclaimed pluralistic image.

This phenomena was shrilly exemplified in a new documentary mini-series “The Chosen People” (even for those of you who don’t read Hebrew, CoPro can be found on the sidebar). While its maker, Yaron London, uses the title ironically, half-mocking the myths he was raised on and, in fact, helped create (not to mention inspire), he is far from letting go of his sentiments of supremacy:

The good doctor speaks truth to power, but his inner enlightenment and message of compassion is lost on the enlightened-colonizer. Not only is he ineffective, he’s being used as the “good Arab”- he’s Christian, he takes care of Holocaust survivors, he’s soft-spoken, and his Hebrew is not too shabby. Could you imagine that his message is still offensive to the majority of Israelis?

Every “Good Arab” story is an individual and rare phenomena for Israelis- cautious empathy is allowed. After all, this is a specific case of a victim of circumstances, and we can all pat ourselves on the back for our ability to empathize with “the enemy”. Now that we’ve framed his story as it is relevant to ours, we’ve so amputated it, there’s nothing to be afraid of. This is just an intellectual exercise- entertainment.

One thought on “HotDocs and CoPro: Entertaining Palestinian Voices”

  1. Thank you for this informative article, Tali. Your angle and research of yet another israeli ingenuity of how Palestinians are “used and abused” is most enlightening, though far from surprising.
    I personally appreciate your brave efforts in learning and understanding the truths of who and what is israel.

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