Edinburgh film fest returns Israeli funding

The 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) organizers announced on Friday they were returning money donated by the Israeli embassy. The return of the money was accompanied by an admission that it had been “a mistake to accept the 300 [British pounds] from the Israeli embassy” and followed a torrent of angry letters expressing incomprehension, fury or sadness at the EIFF being associated with the Israeli state. Many pledged to support Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) pickets of screenings throughout the 2009 Festival, and an initial public protest planned for the following day.

Many were shocked at such a public association with the pariah state so soon after the massacres in Gaza, given Israel’s continuing siege and its ongoing ethnic cleansing and illegal settlement in the West Bank. The EIFF was also pressured into returning money to the Israeli embassy in the wake of the Israeli massacres (during their defeat) in Lebanon in 2006.

Filmmakers and artists pointed out that the EIFF’s claim to separate culture and politics is absurd, while Israel harshly suppresses Palestinian efforts to hold cultural events, most recently in March in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Ken Loach, one of the UK’s most prominent filmmakers, joined in the effort, and issued a statement through the SPSC:

“I’m sure many filmmakers will be as horrified as I am to learn that the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel. The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation, and stay away.”

We welcome the outcome whereby the festival organizers have returned Israel’s tainted money, thus aligning the Edinburgh International Film Festival with the growing Scottish and world-wide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state. In a short period, anger at Israel’s savagery in Palestine has already led, for example, to:

  • The Scottish TUC (Trades Union Congress) joining with its South African and Irish counterparts in committing to BDS and a re-examination of its relations with the Israeli racist pseudo-trade union, the Histadrut.
  • Groups of students staging occupations across many British universities to win scholarships for Gazan students and to drive Israeli companies off their campuses.
  • An Israeli security company, 360 Defense, going “underground” — it had earlier boasted of the skills its personnel acquire in fighting the Palestinian freedom struggle, and its delivery of “anti-terrorism” (sic) courses to Scottish police forces.
  • Israeli company Eden Springs suffering a continuous hemorrhage of lost contracts, forcing the closure of its East of Scotland depot in Loanhead — they have recently hired a public relations company to counter the growing boycott.

These unambiguous trends in civil society contrast with the unflinching support of the British government and the EU for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, for its brutal siege of Gaza and intensifying repression of Palestinian citizens inside Israel. While supporting Israeli brutality abroad, British legal authorities are taking steps to criminalize aspects of solidarity with Palestine here in the UK. With official government endorsement of such efforts, five members of the SPSC have been charged with “racially motivated conduct” and go on trial shortly. This follows a performance in Edinburgh by an Israeli ensemble, the Jerusalem Quartet, of whom it was said approvingly by admirers that “carrying a rifle in one hand and a violin in the other was the ultimate Zionist statement.” SPSC carried the protest against these official “cultural ambassadors of Israel” into the concert hall and we urge others to do likewise, wherever they exchange their rifles to make “the ultimate Zionist statement” with their violins.

The upwelling of anger at Israel’s crimes and natural sympathy with the Palestinian people, can now be converted everywhere into active solidarity with their struggle for freedom. BDS is the only strategy that allows people around the world to participate as auxiliaries in this struggle, and to reduce and possibly neutralize the shameful support of our governments for Israel. It won’t happen automatically, but a determined campaign can succeed in mobilizing the widespread anger at Israeli racism and violence. Opinion polls everywhere show that Israel’s violent ethnic cleansing is being seen for what it is, and that Palestinian resistance, however costly, has not been in vain. Israeli is, clearly and irreversibly, a polecat state, able to kill Palestinians in huge numbers but extremely vulnerable to a world-wide campaign of boycott.

We must keep our eyes on the prize: freedom for the people in Israel’s vast gulag. Our contribution to that will be a mass campaign of BDS. We in SPSC have already chosen our next targets and we have not the slightest doubt that popular opinion will support us. Our opponents know this.