The ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL in Australia has engaged in political censorship and pulled the Canadian made film, Inch 'Allah because its not pro-Israel enough and because it sympathetically portrays Palestinians. It has also been strongly suggested that the film was also pulled because the director of the film, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, has signed her name to a Canadian call in support of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) call.
According to the pro-Zionist news outlet J-Wire, Albert Dadon, the chair of the Zionist hasbarist group running the film festival, Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) agreed to pull the film because: "The artistic direction for this film was in contradiction with our objectives".
David Schulberg, who is credited with getting the film pulled, in a letter of complaint to Dadon and the AICE cited Barbeau-Lavalette support for BDS as a reason for banning the film, writing: "The director herself, because of her BDS affiliation, would be boycotting genuine Israeli cinema and as such would not want to be associated with Israeli product that she would in principle be boycotting. Ironically any Israeli Film Festival would be boycotted by her! .... Please provide an explanation for the inclusion of this film created by a self-declared BDS supporter".
Schulberg also went onto claim that the film "gravely misrepresents the situation that exists in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, highlighting the alleged suffering of the Palestinians at the hand of the Israelis by distorting and distending the facts on the ground ..."
What is notable about Dadon's comments and the complaints by Schulberg are:
(1) That Zionists are unwilling to hear alternative narratives to that of the Zionist one and willing to censor and ban any film that does not fit their preferred pro-Israel narrative and;
(2) the Zionist tendency to distort and misrepresent the Palestinian BDS campaign
Schulberg in his letter of complaint to AICE, which prompted the pulling of the film, claimed that because she is a supporter of the Palestinian initiated BDS campaign that Inch'Allah's director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette would be "boycotting genuine Israeli cinema” However, despite Schulberg's claims, BDS does not advocate the boycotting of Israeli films simply because they are Israeli. As the Palestinian BDS National Committee has noted (on many occasions), nowhere in the world does BDS target businesses or anything else based on the nationality of the owner or producer or cultural products.
For a film to be boycottable under BDS guidelines it must either be commissioned by Israeli state institutions or funded by them or promote normalisation (for more information, see the PACBI Cultural boycott guidelines here). Pro-Palestine activists regularly show films made/co-made by Israelis which do not break the boycott guidelines (for example, recently many pro-Palestine groups around the world have shown the film, 5 Broken Cameras. While the film is made by Palestinian director, it also has an Israeli co-director. The film was nominated for an Oscar and was listed as a Israeli, Palestinian and French co-production)
It should also be noted that when, for example, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has shown pro-Israel, pro-Zionist films, BDS activists have never called for these films to be pulled or banned. When there has been a protest around MIFF, it has been to do with the Israeli Embassy/government being a sponsor and we have called for the film festival to reject the sponsorship. But we have never called on them to censor, ban or pull films.
What is more disturbing about this claim by Schulberg and also Dadon's comments is the implication that "genuine Israeli cinema" must always be ardently pro-Zionist and that a film is automatically “anti-Israel” because it portrays Palestinians sympathetically or does not automatically adopt the Zionist narrative.
In an attempt to justify their political banning of a film that is supposedly not "pro-Israel" enough, Dadon has told The Age newspaper (see article below) that the film "justifies suicide bombing". However, international reviews of the film have made it clear that this is not the case. One such review by the Cinemablographer website (see review below) noted in relation to the both the suicide bombing and other violence in the film: "Some viewers might object that the film frequently puts children as the targets of the violent attacks that are most central to the narrative, but these tragic deaths of innocents ultimately accentuate the senselessness of all the bloodshed. The intriguing framing device of the film, in which the camera follows a child through a marketplace until his trip is cut short by a suicide bomber, will doubtlessly have viewers debating the futility of the violence".
Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette in an interview about her film noted: "For the most part, the Palestinians and Israelis who read the script liked it". She went on to point out, however, that "In fact, Inch'Allah is not a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's a film about a Quebecer in Palestine, about a doctor who is thrown in the deep end of the war. I wanted to talk, first and foremost, about what doesn't belong to us, about what happens to us when we're confronted with a reality so much bigger than us: war. That was my point of view, and the Middle Eastern people who read the script understood it right away".
Tom Ryan, a former Sunday Age film critic, who moderated the Melbourne Israel Film Festival Q & A session for the film before it was pulled from the festival has noted in an article published in The Age on the banning of the film that he had originally been quite impressed at the Q & A session by the audiences "robust responses", "the diverse views on offer", and the "sharp intelligence" of Levy. However, with the banning of the film, he has stated he is "truly dismayed" to learn the film had been pulled. "I had been mistaken about what I'd perceived to be a genuinely democratic openness to ideas," he said.
While the Israel Film Festival has banned the film, Inch'Allah will be shown in cinemas in Australia in October.
I have included below the original J-Wire article, as well as a report by The Age on the banning of the film and the review of the film by the Cinemablographer website.
In solidarity, Kim
The organisers agreed and the film has been withdrawn from the program.
Patron David Schulberg wrote the following letter to the Chairman of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange Albert Dadon:
“With reference to the film Inch’allah that is being shown at this year’s ‘Israeli Film Festival’, we should note that Inch’Allah’s writer and director, Anais Barbeau-Lavalette, in 2009, was one of 500 Quebec artists (including many filmmakers) “joining the international movement against Israeli apartheid” and publicly signing a petition calling for BDS: boycott, divestment and sanctions. This explains why Inch’allah is essentially a propaganda film; it was shot in Jordan probably because of her boycott of Israel. Here’s the link to the petition: www.tadamon.ca/post/5824 that was signed by the film’s director.
During the Q&A session that followed the screening I attended in Melbourne on Saturday night August 18, there was a widespread view that this film should not have been part of the program as it was not an Israeli film in any sense. So much for suggestions of “well-meaning” film-making that the partisan presenter of the Q&A session put forward in his overly enthusiastic support for the film.
This is not bona fide Israeli cinema. The film was shot in Jordan by a French-Canadian consortium with a very tenuous association with an international production company July–August productions that has some Israeli backers. The director herself, because of her BDS affiliation, would be boycotting genuine Israeli cinema and as such would not want to be associated with Israeli product that she would in principle be boycotting. Ironically any Israeli Film Festival would be boycotted by her!
The audience witnessed a film that gravely misrepresents the situation that exists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting the alleged suffering of Palestinians at the hand of the Israelis by distorting and distending the facts on the ground, using stereotypical symbols of Israeli brutality e.g. a jeep deliberately running over a stone-throwing youth (reminiscent of the story of Rachel Corrie), and a woman giving birth at an Israeli checkpoint and being refused emergency entry to a hospital.
I am thinking that we should now be calling this film festival the ‘Anti-Israel Film Festival’. Please provide an explanation for the inclusion of this film created by a self-declared BDS supporter.”
He told J-Wire: “I have shared my dismay over the film Inch’Allah with others who have expressed anger and disappointment over the fact that the film was wrongly touted as being representative of Israeli cinema.”
Dadon agreed with Schulberg, withdrawing the film from exhibition.
Dadon replied: “Well received. I completely agree with you. The artistic direction for this film was in contradiction with our objectives. As a result I have asked Palace to pull off the film. I usually prefer not to get involved in artistic matters concerning the festival but in this instance (I had not seen every movie) the message of that film is completely at odds with what we are about.
All ads etc have been cancelled and the film has been cancelled from tomorrow for the rest of the festival next week.
Rest assured that such mistake isn’t about to reoccur.”
Inch'allah was shown several times before the decision was made to remove it from the program.
The film represents an ideology we obviously can't endorse. It justifies suicide bombing. It might have been OK to be in another festival, but certainly not in ours.Mr Dadon said the inclusion of Inch'allah was "an error" because the film was a French-Canadian production, not an Israeli film. He said that it also "represents an ideology we obviously can't endorse. It justifies suicide bombing. It might have been OK to be in another festival, but certainly not in ours."
He said he does not normally involve himself in the artistic direction of the festival, but in this case felt it was necessary.
The film was shown several times in Victoria and in other states before the decision was made to remove it from the program. The remaining three screenings, which were in Melbourne, were cancelled.
In February, the film won the FIPRESCI critics' prize at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as a special mention in the Ecumenical Jury Award. In the same month, the director was named artist of the year by the Montreal-based les Artistes pour la Paix (artists for peace).
The Australian and New Zealand-Jewish news site J-Wire quoted a festival patron, David Schulberg, who wrote to organisers demanding an explanation for the inclusion of Inch'allah, which he called "anti-Israeli", saying that it "gravely misrepresents the situation that exists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting the alleged suffering of Palestinians at the hand of the Israelis by distorting and distending the facts on the ground".
He noted that Barbeau-Lavalette was one of 500 Montreal artists who had signed a petition in 2010 supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Tom Ryan, former Sunday Age film critic, moderated the Melbourne Q & A last Saturday. He said he had been impressed by the audience's "robust responses", "the diverse views on offer", and the "sharp intelligence" of Levy, but added he was "truly dismayed" to learn the film had been pulled. "I had been mistaken about what I'd perceived to be a genuinely democratic openness to ideas," he said.
Another festival patron, Sol Salbe, who attended a Melbourne screening of Inch'allah, said he felt the removal of the film was wrong, and made for the wrong reasons.
Film critic and broadcaster Peter Krausz labelled the decision to withdraw the film from the program "appalling", claiming it "makes us a laughing stock around the world".
The festival, now in its 10th year, concludes in Melbourne on Wednesday. The closing night film is Otto Preminger's 1960 Hollywood movie Exodus, which was filmed in Israel.
Inch'allah will be released in selected Australian cinemas in October.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to J-Wire as J-News.
By Cinema Blographer