[News] Why we back the boycott call

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 9 11:48:43 EDT 2009

Why we back the boycott call


Ken Loach, Rebecca O'Brien and Paul Laverty, The Electronic Intifada, 
7 September 2009

When we decided to pull our film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne 
International Film festival following our discovery that the festival 
was part-sponsored by the Israeli state, we wrote to the director, 
Richard Moore, detailing our reasons. Unfortunately he has 
misrepresented our position and did so again last week on the 
Guardian's Comment is free by stating that "to allow the personal 
politics of one filmmaker to proscribe a festival position ... goes 
against the grain of what festivals stand for," and claiming that 
"Loach's demands were beyond the pale."

This decision was taken by three filmmakers, (director, producer, 
writer) not in some private abstract bubble, but after a long 
discussion and in response to a call for a cultural boycott from a 
wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society, including writers, 
filmmakers, cultural workers, human rights groups, journalists, trade 
unions, women's groups and student organizations. As Moore should 
know by now the Palestinian 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. PACBI is part of a much wider international movement for 
boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli state.

Why do we back this growing international movement? During the last 
60 years, Israel, backed by the United States, has shown contempt for 
hundreds of UN resolutions, the Geneva convention and 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 further challenge international law by its use of 
phosphorous weapons. Israel continues to flout world-wide public 
opinion; the clearest example of its intransigence is its 
determination to continue to build the wall through Palestinian 
territories despite the 2004 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 a year. 
Meanwhile "on the ground" -- a good title for a film -- Israeli 
settlers continue to take over Palestinian homes and lands making a 
viable Palestinian homeland an impossible dream. Normal life, with 
basic human rights, has become a virtual dream for most Palestinians.

Given the failure of international law, and the impunity of the 
Israeli state, we believe 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."

At a recent BDS event in the West Bank town of Ramallah, author Naomi 
Klein made a very good point when she argued that there is no exact 
equivalency between Israel and South Africa. She said, "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 a human rights organization there who told us 
that the Israelis were refusing enough chemicals to adequately treat 
the civilian water supply; a clear example of vindictive collective 
punishment delivered to one half of the population.

Recently, Neve Gordon, a Jewish political professor teaching in an 
Israeli university, argued: "The most accurate way to describe Israel 
today is an apartheid state." As a result he too is supporting the 
international campaign of divestment and boycott. We feel duty bound 
to take advice from those living at the sharp end inside the occupied 
territories. We would also encourage other filmmakers and actors 
invited to festivals to check for Israeli state backing before 
attending, and if so, to respect the boycott. Israeli filmmakers 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 is one of the best known film directors in the world. He 
directed ground breaking films for TV in the sixties like Cathy Come 
Home and a string of documentaries. He directed one of the UK's best 
known films, Kes in the '60s, and Land And Freedom, Sweet Sixteen, MY 
Name is Joe, The Wind That Shakes The Barley (winner of Palme D'Or in 
Cannes) in recent years.

Rebecca O'Brien has been an independent film producer for 20 years. 
She has produced nine feature films, plus other shorts, with Ken 
Loach, including Land And Freedom, Sweet Sixteen, My Name Is Joe, and 
The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Paul Laverty is a former human rights lawyer who is now a 
screenwriter. He and Ken Loach are now working on their 12th project 
together. All three have worked together for many years.

A version of this essay was originally published by the Guardian's 
Comment is free and is republished with the authors' permission.

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