PACBI Statement

Israeli International Festivals: Occasions for Whitewashing Oppression or Resisting it?

September 30, 2011

[While cultural talks go on] in the nice cinematheques of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, it is hell on earth in Gaza and I  would not want to be there basically. [1]--Mike Leigh

[While cultural talks go on] in the nice cinematheques of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, it is hell on earth in Gaza and I  would not want to be there basically. [1]--Mike Leigh

Once again, the Israeli cultural establishment is attempting to put itself on the global cultural map by mounting another extravaganza, this time the 27th Haifa International Film Festival to be held between 13-22 October 2011. The Festival is sponsored by Israel’s political establishment, from the Minister of Culture and Sport to the Mayor of the city of Haifa. The Israeli Haifa elite celebrates Haifa as “a city that has become a symbol of co-existence, tolerance and peace,” in flagrant contradiction to the realities of segregation, discrimination, and racism suffered by the native Palestinian residents of Haifa, and in denial of Israel’s violent history of ethnic cleansing in that city [2].

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) appeals to all international artists of conscience to withdraw their participation from the festival, whether through direct attendance or by showcasing their films, and thus, to deny the festival the international legitimacy it seeks through such participation. PACBI calls on these international artists to refrain from showing their films or accepting awards at the festival. Doing otherwise would inadvertently lend a stamp of approval to Israeli policies of colonialism, apartheid and occupation, especially given the festival’s ties to the Haifa city government and the larger Israeli establishment, both of which use this as an opportunity to rebrand Israel as a normal country by showing its “prettier face”--its vibrant cultural and artistic community.[3] Israel, however, is not a normal country and should not be admitted into the global cultural arena until it respects international law and recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to freedom, equality and justice.

A former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, explained upon launching the Brand Israel campaign in 2005: "We are seeing culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture."[4]

We urge filmmakers and other artists scheduled to appear at the festival or to showcase their films to follow the example of the renowned filmmaker Ken Loach, who declared in 2006 that he would decline any invitation to the Haifa International Film Festival, or other such occasions, as an acknowledgment of the Palestinian call for boycott, which Palestinians have been driven to pursue "after forty years of the occupation of their land, destruction of their homes and the kidnapping and murder of their civilians." [5] Loach was responding to the 2006 call by Palestinian filmmakers, artists and others to boycott state sponsored Israeli cultural institutions and urged others to join this campaign [6]. The Palestinian cultural workers were heeding the Palestinian call for the cultural and academic boycott of Israel, launched in 2004 [7], supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society movements and organizations.

We are particularly concerned that this festival has the active support and enthusiastic promotion of the British Council, an organization that PACBI has previously taken to task for promoting cultural cooperation with Israel through the BI Arts scheme [8]. Thanking the British Council’s “partners at the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who co-fund the BI ARTS programme,” the director of the British Council Israel, Dr. Simon Kay, enthuses about the highlight of the Festival: the launch of the UK-Israel Co-production Film Treaty.

While the British Council is part of the same UK officialdom that has regularly granted immunity to Israel and has refrained from imposing sanctions of any kind upon this rogue state, we certainly expect more from British filmmakers and artists, many of whom have been at the forefront of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel and the solidarity movement with Palestinians. We particularly appeal to John Madden, who will be given the Award for Cinematic Excellence at the Festival. We hope that Madden will not follow in the footsteps of the British writer Ian McEwan, who accepted the Jerusalem Prize last February during the Jerusalem Book Fair. Festivals and similar events, put on by state-supported cultural institutions in Israel, are occasions par excellence for the Israeli rebranding campaign [9], and are used by officials to discredit the growing international support for Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), as well as to show off Israel as a cultural and artistic haven.

We also appeal to the international members of the jury for the “Golden Anchor Competition for Mediterranean Cinema,” Raisa Fomina (Russia), Gareth Unwin (UK), Azize Tan (Turkey), Yael Fogiel (France), and Daniel Mulloy (UK) not to allow the Festival to exploit their international standing in an event that only serves to whitewash Israel’s crimes.

Likewise, we urge all participants in the international competitions to withdraw their films immediately, as a gesture of solidarity with Palestinians and in respect of their call for BDS. We particularly appeal to the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose film, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," has been entered in the international competition for Mediterranean cinema. We remind Mr. Ceylan that Israel has certainly not behaved as a good Mediterranean citizen, as attested to by the state violence it unleashed against fellow Turkish “Mediterraneans” on the Mavi Marmara last year.

In heeding the Palestinian call for boycott, these artists and filmmakers will be joining the increasing number of international artists, including Mike Leigh, the Yes Men, Jean Luc-Godard, among others, who have in recent years refused to entertain apartheid Israel and who have chosen not to cross the Palestinian picket line [10].

PACBI would like to point out that there are honorable precedents concerning the Haifa International Film Festival. In 2006, the administrative council of the Greek Cinematography Center (GCC) decided to withdraw all the Greek films from the Festival, arguing that "under the current circumstances the specific cultural event has lost its meaning" [11]. Earlier, in 2002, Gaslight, the producers of the British documentary “Sunday” withdrew their film form HIFF. In their withdrawal letter to the festival, they wrote:

... of the many lessons that flow from the story of Bloody Sunday, key among them is the ethical political and long-term military folly of governments attempting to impose military solutions on civil and human rights problems. We take this action in support of the Palestinian people and in solidarity with Palestinian artists and filmmakers. It is also done in solidarity with those within Israel (both Israelis and Arabs) who are speaking out and acting (e.g. refuseniks) against the government‘s murderous policies against the Palestinian people [12].

PACBI contends that funding by Israeli state institutions of international film festivals is a key aspect of the rebranding effort to cover up for an escalating agenda of apartheid, occupation, and colonialism against the Palestinian people, as well as a blatant whitewash of the deadly assault on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009, and the lethal attack on humanitarian aid workers aboard the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla in May 2010, which resulted in the murder of nine Turkish relief workers and human rights activists. When international filmmakers and artists shun film festivals by refusing to participate and thus withdrawing their implicit approval, it deprives Israel of the chance to use art and culture as a tool in beautifying its apartheid reality.

With Israel‘s continued disregard for international law and the basic rights of the Palestinian people, the kind of solidarity we expect from people of conscience around the world is to heed the Palestinian civil society call for BDS against Israel and its complicit institutions, as international artists did in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Finally, we would like to call on international solidarity groups to put pressure on international participants of the Haifa International Film Festival to cancel all forms of participation, and to explain to them the political meaning of their participation.



[2] See and
[10] For a partial list of those who have adhered to the Palestinian call for BDS and the degrees to which one can support the call see:

September 30, 2011


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