Filmmakers and artists including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and John Pilger have called on cinema chains to boycott a government-backed Israeli film festival in London.
More than 40 prominent directors, producers and “concerned citizens” signed an open letter expressing their sadness and disappointment at the Bafta, Curzon and Odeon cinemas for hosting the event.
Seret 2015, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival, will open with a gala screening of the film “Hill Start” at Bafta on Thursday.
The letter said signatories opposed the festival because it is co-sponsored by the Israeli government, thereby making the cinemas “silent accomplices” to the suffering of the Palestinian people.
“Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalizes, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians,” the letter said.
Other signatories included Peter Kosminsky, director of the acclaimed BBC television series “Wolf Hall,” and renowned Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki.
The letter, which was published in The Guardian, said the decision to host the festival comes in the aftermath of the “wanton destruction and killing” in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in the summer of 2014.
It also follows the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a leader who “denies Palestinians their equal rights and self-determination,” the signatories wrote. “This comes at a time when the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is gaining unprecedented momentum.”
The letter adds: “The Israeli government is finding itself increasingly isolated for its systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, the Geneva conventions, and international law.”
Those who signed the letter stressed it was not a request to refuse to show films by individual filmmakers, but “to reject the involvement and financial support of the Israeli state.”
Speaking to The Guardian, film director Ken Loach said: “The boycott campaign specifically says this is not a campaign against individual filmmakers, it is a call for a boycott when the state of Israel invests money or is promoting the event.”
“I’d be the last person to want to censor an individual voice.”
In a statement, Curzon Cinemas said it “hosts many festivals throughout the year, including the Human Rights Watch film festival, the London film festival and festivals representing regions from around the world including the Kinoteka Polish film festival, the Romanian film festival and many more.”
“We have not previously considered asking questions about the funding of a festival booked at one of our cinemas, and we do not consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment.”
Festival founders Anat Koren, Odeliah Haroush and Patty Hochmann said in a statement the Curzon group had a well-deserved reputation for showing the best of world cinema and they were delighted films from Israel were included in that category.
They also appreciate “the support the Israeli government makes to the development of the film and television industries in Israel, and to assisting us in presenting Israel’s creativity to UK audiences.”
“Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented filmmakers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.”
They added: “Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”
The open letter in support of BDS follows the movement’s recent success when the CEO of telecommunications company Orange announced he would like to cut ties with Israel.
Stephane Richard told reporters in Egypt he wanted to sever ties with an Israeli partner company that operates in the West Bank.
“I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning,” Richard said.
“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt ... We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”