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Activists protest inclusion of Israeli-backed films in Queer Film Festival

Activists protest inclusion of Israeli-backed films in Queer Film Festival

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Festival says action highlights power of film to 'inspire discussion and dialogue'
About a dozen activists staged a protest to draw attention to so-called “pinkwashing” by Israel’s government at the screening of an Israeli-backed documentary at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) Aug 22.

The documentary, Invisible Men, by gay Israeli director, Yariv Mozer, follows in part the journey of Louie, a gay Palestinian who seeks refuge in Israel after receiving death threats from his own family, only to face harassment and deportation, before eventually fleeing to Europe.

An Aug 21 letter sent by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to Out On Screen, and read after the film’s screening, says the documentary “rather than supporting Palestinian queers, replaces their voice with an Israeli narrative, funded and supported by the very government engaged in a military occupation and apartheid structure in Palestine that targets Palestinian queers just as directly as every other Palestinian.”

QuAIA member, Amal Rana, pointed to Mozer’s and the film's financial ties to the Israeli government as a symbol of “pinkwashing,” a bid to portray Israel as gay-friendly while glossing over its human rights record, she said.

QuAIA said they were “disturbed” about the inclusion of the documentary and another Israeli film, Joe + Belle, in the festival.

“As someone from a Jewish and Muslim background, and someone who's queer, I don't feel really comfortable going into my own festival,” Rana told Xtra.

“Palestinian queers themselves have said that the first thing we need to tackle is the occupation. They agree that homophobia and transphobia exist everywhere — in Palestine, in Israel, and everywhere else,” she says.

The activists called on Queer Film Festival organizers to adopt a cultural boycott of Israel.

But the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has criticized QuAIA for its boycott demand, saying that Israeli queers deserve an opportunity to celebrate the “extraordinary inroads” the state has made towards equality.

“It’s very telling that QuAIA doesn’t contend the fact that hundreds of gay Palestinians have fled to Israel in order to join Israel’s open and vibrant gay community,” Darren Mackoff, CIJA’s Pacific Region Director told Xtra. “The idea that Israel’s LGBT community, which includes many gay Palestinians, should be subject to a boycott is not just absurd — it’s offensive.

“I’m not sure why we can’t celebrate Israel’s achievements in advancing gay rights without the conversation being reduced to one-dimensional, ‘us-versus-them’ thinking. This is not to say that Israel’s government, like every other democratic government, shouldn’t be subject to fair criticism for particular policy decisions.”

The film festival organizers said they welcomed the post-film discussion.

“We are grateful to those members of the queer communities and our allies who share their feedback about the films we screen,” OOS executive director Drew Dennis and programming director Amber Dawn say in an Aug 22 statement. “Film has the power to inspire discussion and dialogue. We welcome the opportunity to host these conversations during our festival, and year-round.

“Since our founding 24 years ago, we have been proud to be a place of conversation, hosting community-based dialogue panels that encourage divergent viewpoints to be expressed in an environment that embraces diversity and respects differences.”

Festival–goers told Xtra they found the documentary “very disturbing” and “painful,” while another said she worried its deeply intimate approach was “exploitative” of the subjects. Although most attendees Xtra spoke with were inspired by the film, they were divided about QuAIA's boycott.

“I always welcome new information, so I'm glad I got the chance to hear the letter they presented,” says filmgoer Jim Matteoni. “But I'm even more glad I got a chance to see the film.

“Boycotting and excluding a film like that is a way of putting our own blinders on. That has me a little bit scared. But the public protest about the film — and making us aware that this might be pinkwashing by the government of Israel and cultural associations – is justifiable, and I'm glad it happened... Boy, it's a tough one; I have to say, I'm still sitting on the fence.”

Another attendee told Xtra he disagrees with the protest, and felt the panel discussion afterwards — featuring the Rainbow Refugee Committee, No One Is Illegal and QuAIA — was dominated by Rana’s reading of QuAIA’s statement.

“I felt generally that what they did was an ad hominem, that the film was sponsored by the Israeli government, and that it was feeding into a colonial mentality,” said Ron Kidd outside the Vancity Theatre, where Invisible Men played. “They grabbed too much attention.

“The whole situation is very painful. I've been in the Occupied Territories, and I've seen how brutal the Occupation is. But I don't believe in cutting off free speech either.”

The activists’ statement acknowledged the film’s claim to be “socially conscious,” and director Mozer's portrayal of the discrimination faced by Palestinian refugees in Israel.

In San Francisco, activists disrupted a screening of Invisible Men at the LGBT International Film Festival in July, an action that was both applauded and jeered by the audience.

A Mondoweiss report noted that the film’s director, Mozer, who attended that screening, challenged activists about the value of a cultural boycott.

In 2009, the Toronto International Film Festival also became mired in controversy even before it began, when it faced criticism for its City to City showcase on Tel Aviv.

Comments

More speech, not less
Amazing. This is the same group that argued on free speech grounds for the right to march in Toronto Pride, correct? I never thought they were terribly committed to the cause of freedom of speech to begin with, but it's nice to see them put the lie to that line so unambiguously.
Eyes Wide Open
Another gay Israeli film that QuAIA doesn’t want you to watch is “Eyes Wide Open”. The film is set in Jerusalem. The main character is Aaron, an orthodox Jew in his mid-30s who helps run a kosher butcher shop. Aaron is married and has four sons, but he often feels something is missing from his life. One day, a 19-year-old yeshiva student, Ezri, stops by the shop. When Aaron learns Ezri is homeless, he offers to make the young man his apprentice and gives him a room. Aaron and Ezri strike up a fast friendship, but in time their feelings become deeper, and during a communal bath they act on the desires that have been growing between them. Aaron finds himself torn between his loyalty to his family and his growing love for Ezri. You can watch the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwBaS6m3q5c
Question to boycotters
I've just browsed the festival program and noticed a chinese movie. Does any of you have thought to say something about it ? China is a dictatorship (a real one) and is violating human rights everyday on a massive scale. Palestine is disney world when compared to Tibet. I don't say it would be a good idea to boycott this movie (it wouldn't) but why this double standard ? Should we consider that your motivation is not really human rights or people's sufferings, but just plain old Israel hate instead ?
Good Boys
Another gay Israeli film that QuAIA doesn’t want you to watch is “Good Boys”. The main characters in the film are Menni and Tal, two male prostitutes in Tel Aviv. The two meet and are then hired to have sex together while their John watches. They then spend the night together, and both men feel that they’ve made a special connection to one another. They agree to meet up again the next evening; the movie follows their efforts to do so. There’s a trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzgGvRvK65s
Hoping to see VQFF BDS Policy next year!
Amazing to see the many pinkwashing attempts in these comments! Is the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s film distributor on here? In my understanding, the call to boycott Israel’s pinkwashing is not about the artistic merits of any specific film or work, free speech, or relative cultural values. It’s simply about the deliberate plan by a brutal state (guilty of many violations of Human Rights, UN and international law, and war crimes) to use our queer community to distract public attention from these heinous crimes and abuses. The subliminal spin to the het community is to plant a question about how a state that recognizes rights for queers could actually be guilty of these other acts. We are being callously used. This is not about exclusion of an artist or their work based upon race, religion or nationality – it’s about the role they play in this rebranding exercise by the government of Israel. To avoid participating in pinkwashing, this filmmaker could have publicly denounced pinkwashing (rather than question its existence), and could have refused state (and state proxy) funding for the film’s creation and distribution – especially Israeli consulate sponsorship at queer festivals. He could have chosen to ensure his work’s independence from “brand Israel” pinkwashing. Everytime we argue about Israel and Israeli film and other cultural products in terms of free speech, artistic merit, and queer or other content, we are fulfilling the objective of pinkwashing - because we are NOT talking about their occupation, oppression, war crimes and human rights abuses. So let’s please listen to the call from our Palestinian queer community, and keep the focus where it belongs and separate queer discourse from any discussion of Israel until that state accepts Palestinian rights and ends the occupation. My queer community will refuse to play the part intended for us, understanding that all oppressions are linked and so must be our resistance to them. NO PINKWASHING IN MY NAME!
To Charlotte in Vancouver
What's truly 'awesome' is your ability to throw around terms like 'ethnic cleansing', 'land theft' and 'occupation' when you haven't a clue. Please give me an example of 'land theft'. Do you mean the West Bank that Israel won in a defensive war from Jordan who illegally seized it in 1948 ??? That would make it 'disputed' NOT 'occupied' but i'm sure these details don't interest you. Or perhaps the Golan Heights that Syria used to shell the innocent civilians down below until they lost it in a defensive war in 1967 ? As for 'ethnic cleansing' all one has to do is look in most Arab countries and find no Jews there to undersatnd what true ethnic cleansing is...and then look in Israel and find 20% Arabs...is that ethnic cleansing ??? then Israel is doing a lousy job. In 1948 Jordan kicked all Jews out of the old city of Jerusalem where they had lived continuously for 2000 years and then proceeded to destroy all traces of their history (icluding my great grandparents tombstones) and used Judaism's holiest site as a garbage disposal...THAT is ethnic cleansing. But, once again, just minute details, as far as you're concerned. Your hate agenda is so strong that the facts don't at all concern you. You'd rather just throw around terms that you've heard before that sound good and fit your agenda.
There's homophobia and there's homokilling
"They agree that homophobia and transphobia exist everywhere: in Palestine, in Israel, and everywhere else,' QuAIA's Amal Rana says." I know 'details' are not important to you but here's a difference...in Palestinian areas and other Muslim countries onecan be killed for coming out of the closet, in Lebanon an 'anal probe' is used to 'find' semen in gay suspects. Oh yes, and in Israel some stupid rabbi might throw an egg at you. Perhaps all equivalent to you but ask the family of the dead gay palestinian if they see any differences.
Antarctica
Another gay Israeli film that QuAIA and its supporters don’t want you to see is “Antarctica”. The film features a number of intertwining stories, including: a gay man looking for love after souring on one-night-stands; his sister, who recently called off her marriage to a man for tenuous relations with a female cabaret owner; and a sexy dance student who’s desired by all but can’t settle on who he wants. Here’s a trailer for the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tww42eCMPcA As you can see from the trailer, the movie is very sensual and homoerotic and could not be shown in the homophobic Muslim nations that are Israel's enemies.
In support of BDS
The cultural boycott of Israel is not about censoring free speech, as some have claimed. It is about refusing to give a platform to those individuals and groups who seek to cover-up and deny the brutal realities faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. I am deeply disturbed by those, who in response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, simply claim that Israel is a democratic country and a gay mecca in an otherwise hostile Middle East. Not only does this deny the existence of numerous queer Arab organizations, it also positions human rights as something that can be placed on a balancing scale, such that if a country oppresses one group of people but supposedly respects the rights of another (an almost impossible task given the intersectionality of identities) it evens out. To use queer rights in this manner (i.e. to essentially pink-wash the occupation), I feel does a great disservice to the queer rights movement. Israel’s alleged respect of queer rights is also extremely racialzed, given that queer Palestinians are subject to daily oppression at the hands of the Israeli government. The cultural boycott, called upon by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations – including queer organizations – is an opportunity to take a stance against the occupation by not engaging with those who seek to use art, film and dance to paint a pretty face on an ugly and brutal occupation. I encourage the Vancouver Queer Film Festival to respect the call of queer Palestinians and implement a BDS policy for next year’s festival!
The Bubble
Another gay Israeli film is “The Bubble”. It tells the story of two men who fall in love, one Israeli and one Palestinian. The title of the film refers to Tel Aviv, a relatively peaceful city in a tumultuous region and the setting of the film. Here’s a trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou4UFIiY1wk There’s a scene in the movie where the main characters attend an “anti-occupation” event. There are filmmakers who try to show both sides of a conflict. Of course, the Stalinists in QuAIA don’t want you to see it. QuAIA supporters (including its lesbian Muslim supporters like Amal Rana) are too busy pinkwashing the story of Muslim nations that persecute homosexuals and oppress women.

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