The Thought Police
The Other Israel film festival came about not to show our audiences a single view of the lives of Israel's 20% Palestinian minority but to present a complex nuanced picture of the lives that Palestinians lead as Israeli citizens. We do not screen PROPAGANDA. The aim of propaganda is to convince the audience that one point of view is the correct one. We show films feature and documentary - those films are chosen because they are good films that we feel will be interesting to our audiences. Recently a friend rejected a film that we are going to screen saying it is "Zionist". This is the thought police at work. By labeling the film Zionist (which to him is a bad label) he negates the film nor for its content or its excellence but for what he sees is a "Bad point of view". We do not care if our film makers are socilalists, communists, zionists or astronauts - we care only that they make good films about Palestinian Israelis. We are an independent organization, we have Jews, non Jews Muslim and Christian who are partners in our endeavors. We do not try and present a picture of Israel either balanced or unbalanced. We want our audiences to see everything to be exposed to many points of view which promotes a lively dialogue. It is the complexity that often makes good art.
The Thought Police would like to put us into a box. The Palestinian Thought Police would like to say Other Israel is Zionist, The Israeli Government would like to claim that the Other Israel is anti-Zionist. Other Israel is pro-Israel, Other Israel is Anti Israel... We are none of the above. We are a film festival that presents the works of artists who are interested in Israel's minorities. We present works of art that represent the film makers who make them. Period. They do not represent Israel, Palestine or America, they represent themselves. The thought police would like us to be otherwise.
Other Israel has been accused of being "Brand Israel." Israel invested sevral million dollars in a PR campaign that has grown to be known as "Brand Israel". Trying to distract the public from its Militaristic image, the campaign focuses on: The high tech sector, wine and food festivals, slogans such as "building the future", "vibrant diversity", Medical development and entrepreneureal zeal. We are not Brand Israel. We are four people who choose the films for the festival we choose on the basis of quality and to a lesser extent films that show what we feel is an important topic. We never consider for good or for bad how Israel is portrayed. Our only concern is that the film maker made a good film. We do not want to take a scripted message to our audiences to convince them that Israel is a Nice Place - we want our audience to experience the lives of Palestinian Israelis as the film makers see them.
On the other side is PACBI - The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. This is a concept similar to the way that South Africa pressured groups to divest from South Africa. The difference, of course, being that the South African boycott was economic. PACBI, astonishingly in my view, attacks the very institutions that have consistently tried to promote the values of human rights and our common humanity all institutions of Higher Learning and all cultural institutions. PACBI claims that supporting art or academics that receive money from Israel taints all enterprises. This PACBI group has succeeded in something outstandingly - unleashing the latent anti-Semitism in England, France and other places in Europe. In the US they are slowly making inroads. Essentially PACBI says that if you take money from Israel in any way we will boycott you.
Little did I think we would be on PABCI's hit-list and indeed, an American born Palestinian filmmaker heard that we were considering screening her film and told us that we could not screen her film because we violate the boycott. Initially she said it was because we were supported by the New Israel Fund and the Abraham Fund both of whom were supported by the Israeli government. When she recovered from that whopper she turned to PACBI who listed the reasons that we violate the guidelines of boycott. (we do not)
PACBI wrote us a long rambling letter filled with inaccuracies and non-reasons (such as the fact that they think we have the same aims as "Brand Israel.") Since Brand Israel is another branch of the thought police - think good thoughts about Israel as seen through our cultural events - we do not subscribe to branding anything. We believe in ART and the truth that it shed on the human condition.
PACBI tries to censor what is seen on the screen, and what is read on the page. They hide behind the equaision that taking money from Israel means you support the occupation. But the truth is that PACBI like my friend who did not want to see what he considered a Zionist film (this because the film is about two Israeli women arab and jew who compete in Eurovision) simply wants to censor the films that audiences see. They want only films where Israel comes out looking racist and brutal and never present a film that might show the complexities of this situation. PACBI can wrap themselves in the flag of the South Africans but it will do no good. The thought police are the thought police whether they wear blue and white or white red and green. This trend is deeply disturbing. Our festival reaches a broad audience who one would think that all Palestinian film-makers would want to reach. Apparently the thought police has silenced these "artists" as well as the productive exchange of idea that might have emerged.