Loach takes a stance – Boycotting State of Israel

19 Jul

Direct message ... director Ken Loach after the screening of Looking For Eric at the Cannes Film Festival / Reuters

Director Ken Loach has pulled out his film, Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival, an act of boycott against the Israel state since the event was partly sponsored by the latter (read The Australian and The Age report).

In the letter to the film organisers, Loach explained that he would withdraw his film from the event unless the film festival organiser ‘reconsider accepting Israel as a sponsor’. Clarifying that it is not an act of boycott against any Israeli film makers nor films, this decision was made due to the appeal by Palestinian activists.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel have sent a  letter to the film festival, stating that this sponsorship ‘… with the Israeli government less than six months after Israel ended its bloody war against the occupied Gaza Strip would be tantamount to an implicit endorsement of the war crimes it has committed and is still committing in Gaza’.

Moreover, this is also an immoral act as it implies the ‘acceptance of blood money and partnering with the culture of a colonial and apartheid regime that continues to blatantly violate international law and Palestinian human rights with utter impunity’.

Richard Moore, the festival executive director has replied to Loach, arguing that they would not back down as Israel has been supporting the event for a few years. Moreover, he contended that the film festival has always shown films depicting the different viewpoints with regards to the Middle Eastern conflict.

The call for a boycott/ divest/ sanction campaign against Israel has been propounded by activists such as Naomi Klein who wrote an article listing the top four objections and convincing counterarguments. She states that ‘constructive engagements’ have failed to work and that when carrots don’t work, sticks are needed’. Moreover, Israel, as a trade-dependent country would be significantly affected by such a strategy.

Read also her replies to Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. The latter claims that the boycott campaign is unfair as it does not consider Hamas’ action. Klein argues that this is to confuse the given situation at hand. Firstly, Israel, as an occupier, has a responsibility towards the Occupied. Secondly, Gazans are already being ‘punished’ or facing ‘collective punishment’ through the siege.

But coming back to the Melbourne Film Festival episode, the organisers could have simply done what the Edinburgh Film Festival organisers did. They returned the 300 pound grant to the Israeli embassy and paid for the travel expenses of the film producer, Tali Shalom Ezer whose film, Surrogate, was shown in their festival [Read about the Edinburgh Film Festival saga at Pulse, ‘‘Enough is Enough’, say Ken Loach and Ilan Pappe‘ as well as the letter exchange between Loach and Tali Shalom Ezer, ‘Ken Loach responds to critics’].

In this way, the film festival gets to uphold its integrity while ensuring that differing films will continue to be screened for the benefit of the film makers and audience.

Australians for Palestine have said that they would be protesting outside the opening of the Melbourne Film Festival on the 24 July. They have also reproduced the letter exchanges between Loach and the Melbourne Film Festival:

Loachs letter to Melbourne Film Festival

Loach's letter to Melbourne Film Festival

Melbourne Film Festival reply to Loach

Melbourne Film Festival's reply to Loach

Loachs reply to Melbourne Film Festival

Loach's reply to Melbourne Film Festival

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6 Responses to “Loach takes a stance – Boycotting State of Israel”

  1. David July 21, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    Dear Charles.

    You sadly miss the meaning of the word integrity. As you indicate Loach made the same demand of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Shamefully the organisers of the Edinburgh festival cravenly gave in to his outrageous demand for censorship.

    Full marks to Melbourne International Film Festival executive director Richard Moore for standing up to Loach’s attempt to blackmail the festival into boycotting Israel because of Israel’s past defensive military operations in Lebanon and Gaza.

    It is ironic that Land and Freedom (1995), which many consider Loach’s finest film, presents a powerful and moving story about the men and women who fought against Franco’s fascists in Spain in the 1930s. Loach can recognise and oppose European fascism, but would appear to have a blind spot when it comes to the Islamo-fascism of Hamas and Hezbollah.

  2. Charles July 22, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Dear David,

    Firstly, there is no censorship with regards to the Edinburgh Film Festival. And the integrity of the Edinburgh Film has remained intact for making a courageous though politically controversial decision. Tali Shalom Ezer’s film, Surrogate, was screened but the travel expense for the film maker comes from the organisers themselves. This was the very obvious point that Ken Loach was trying to make – that the act of boycott is not an act of censorship.

    As such, given the precedence, one can quite rightly ask the Melbourne International Festival organisers why they could not have done the same.

    It is also interesting that your choice of words betray an inherent prejudice of the situation such as ‘defensive military action’ or ‘Islamo-fascism’. But that is beside the point. Let us stick to the gist of the commentary – why a boycott campaign.

    I think Naomi Klein and the Palestinian activists group have explained quite convincingly why it should be used which I have also reproduced in this piece. Unless someone can come up with more convincing arguments (aside from Israel’s right of defense which appears to trump over international laws), then the reasons for a boycott campaign remains most logical and feasible.

  3. David July 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Refer
    (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1246443852848&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull) where you can see that a European Court of Human Rights ruling has taken place where a boycott of Israeli goods has been judged to be a violation of French law.

    The mayor of a small French town was convicted for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country.

    So a good reason to not use boycotts is because they are potentially illegal and unnecessarily inflammatory.

    Boycotts don’t promote open debate and discussion – they help to convince Israeli hard-liners that the world is against them and force them to adopt even more resistant negotiating positions.

  4. Charles July 23, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Whether one chooses to use boycott (or not) again depends on the individual. Many activists have engaged in civil disobedience to promulgate their causes. Therefore, just because something is illegal does not necessarily means its wrong or should not be used. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers and actors are activists who have engaged in civil disobedience. Think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi.

    In addition, based on the case/ link that you have posted, the Mayor was fined not for any actual act of ‘boycott’ but rather exercising his freedom of speech to call for a boycott. This is therefore a debate more on freedom of expression rather than the actual act of boycotting. What is being ruled against the Mayor is this and let us be crystal clear: He was fined for French law dictates he cannot call for a boycott. Only the French authorities are allowed to do so. The court is therefore not ruling on whether the boycott is legal or not.

    As for the argument that boycotts don’t promote open debate and discussion, we can again refer to Klein’s counterargument (which was also made in the post) – that any ‘constructive engagement’ with Israel has fallen on deaf ears over the years.

    As for the hardliners, I think it is reasonable to assume that any reasonable arguments is likely to be brushed aside anyways. Therefore, with or without the boycott, they would have persisted with their ‘positions’.

  5. David July 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    Martin Luther King and Gandhi both had irrefutable moral rectitude. The deaf ears belong to both Israelis and Palestinians.

    Let me take another tack here. The boycott has targeted an individual artist who happens to be an Israeli. Has anybody asked the filmmaker what her personal views are on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? There is no issue here of official sponsorship of the film festival by the Israeli government. This sounds like bullying to me, opportunistically trumping any excuse to unfairly denounce Israel in the media.

    It resembles the actions of students on university campuses who disrupt university lectures to spew out their hate invective against Israel. It resembles the blocking of Israeli academics from pursuing their private work just because they happen to be Israeli.

    Boycotts are unsystematic, injudicious actions that generally fail to deliver anything positive; when considering how to deal with this conflict it is better to think constructively.

    As a tactic boycotts are very similar to what Hamas have been doing for years in firing their rockets into Israel. With their primitive weaponry they have had no control over who they hit – often innocent civilians including young children. There have been many cases where Israeli Arabs have been slaughtered by indiscriminate suicide bombers.

    So the Loach boycott is another example of this kind of ineffective misdirected rocketry. To choose to boycott in the misguided way that Loach has chosen only serves to demonstrate the immorality of this kind of approach.

  6. Charles July 24, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    David,

    With regards to your comments on:

    – ‘Has anybody asked the filmmaker what her personal views are on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?’ – The film director Ken Loach has explained this point. Alternatively, you can also refer to Guidelines for Applying the International Cultural Boycott of Israel from Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel on their website.

    – ‘This sounds like bullying to me, opportunistically trumping any excuse to unfairly denounce Israel in the media’ – The boycott calls, whether initiated by Palestinian or other international groups are not acts of bullying Israel, but clear demands for it to respect international law.

    – ‘It resembles the actions of students on university campuses who disrupt university lectures to spew out their hate invective against Israel. It resembles the blocking of Israeli academics from pursuing their private work just because they happen to be Israeli’ – There is the problem of having to prove that ‘students are spewing hate invectives’. Again, on boycotting academics, the point has been reiterated before by activists such as Klein.

    – ‘Boycotts are unsystematic, injudicious actions that generally fail to deliver anything positive; when considering how to deal with this conflict it is better to think constructively’ – Again, refer to point by Klein.

    – ‘As a tactic boycotts are very similar to what Hamas have been doing for years in firing their rockets into Israel. With their primitive weaponry they have had no control over who they hit – often innocent civilians including young children. There have been many cases where Israeli Arabs have been slaughtered by indiscriminate suicide bombers’ – Again, refer to Klein. Comparing boycott to Qassam rockets does not make any sense. Boycotting the state of Israel has not lead or is unlikely to lead to deaths or harm of property. Inversely, Israel’s state of the art weaponery has killed more Gazans including women and children; and destroyed more public infrastructure in Gaza during the last military campaign.

    – ‘So the Loach boycott is another example of this kind of ineffective misdirected rocketry. To choose to boycott in the misguided way that Loach has chosen only serves to demonstrate the immorality of this kind of approach’ – There is a point to the boycott calls. Most of them are to demand Israel respect international laws.

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