Although we are a small country about as far away as you can get from Israel and Palestine, New Zealand has punched above its weight in the past in terms of calling out racist regimes, the most notable example being our protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. When Nelson Mandela heard from his prison cell that the demonstrators had succeeded in cancelling the Hamilton game, he said, “it was like the sun had come out”. Our actions at that crucial time reverberated around the world, bolstering those fighting the Apartheid regime. As New Zealanders we are once again in a unique position to play a similar role in bringing to an end the present-day system of vicious Apartheid in Israel-Palestine, by ending our own complicity by way of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). This means withdrawing from association with and investment in Israel – economically, politically and culturally, including (but not limited to) the recently signed film agreement.
What is the film agreement?
As mentioned in a previous blog, a film co-production agreement was signed between the Israeli and NZ governments in March this year. Co-production agreements aren’t a problem per se, but this one is part of Israel’s self-named ‘Brand Management’ campaign to promote itself as a tolerant and progressive nation when the opposite is true. Since then concerned New Zealanders have launched a Campaign to Boycott the Film Agreement. The campaign is part of a larger picture of cultural boycott, which is just one tactic of the international, Palestinian-led BDS movement, a peaceful strategy of isolating Israel economically, culturally, academically and politically, until it complies with international law with regard to human rights.
US-Palestinian author Ali Abunimah, who toured New Zealand earlier this year, described the film agreement as a “travesty”, by which Israel hopes “to cloak itself in New Zealand’s good reputation… to whitewash its crimes.”
Why cultural boycott?
BDS is the most effective non-violent option. It targets Israel economically and politically as well as through academic and cultural boycott. The official BDS Movement website explains why cultural boycott is not only justified but a key part of the movement:
“BDS does not target artists. It targets institutions based on their complicity in Israel’s violations of international law. Israel has made a deliberate decision to use culture to whitewash its crimes. Following the Gaza massacre in 2009, an Israeli official announced a plan to ‘send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits’ to ‘show Israel’s prettier face’. This was part of the Brand Israel project, launched by Israel’s foreign ministry in 2005 to counter the boycott. Often when Israeli artists perform overseas using government funding, they have to sign a contract promising to ‘promote the policy interests of the State of Israel’… When international artists violate the boycott and perform in Israel, it helps to normalise Israel’s crimes. That’s why the Israeli government portrays concerts in Israel as a sign of support for its policies.”
Israeli film industry
NZ’s campaign to boycott the film agreement was recently vindicated by the actions of the Israeli Minister for Sport and Culture, Miri Regev. At the Israeli Film Awards last month the minister, notorious even in Israel for her extreme Zionist ideals and divisive rhetoric, walked out of the ceremony in protest when an excerpt from Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “ID card” was performed onstage by jewish performer Yossi Tzaberi and Tamer Nafar, the Palestinian star of the award-winning film “Junction 48”.
Later she returned to make a speech, accusing the film industry of elitism and threatening to cut funding. In her usual melodramatic style vowed that she would not allow Israeli cinema to become an “exclusive club” (translate: infiltrated by lefties), and yet an exclusive club is exactly what she wants it to be. She talks about limiting the term of heads of film funding organisations, but she denies the facts of the ‘Nakba’ and will not fund so-called ‘subversive’ films that deal with the occupation. Needless to say, she has never advocated shortening her own term in office. It was clear to most of the audience that her tirade was not tethered to reality, and she was loudly booed.
Nor does she have the full support of the all-jewish academy, many of whom see her as a divisive hypocrite. The film academy’s chairman, Mosh Danon, is reported to have said, “I think putting Darwish on the stage would be provoking Regev. I don’t want them to cut off our funding.”
Two Palestinian films, ‘Junction 48’ and ‘Sand Storm’, received awards in this year’s Ophir Awards (a.k.a. the ‘Israeli Oscars’). Actresses from ‘Sand Storm’ refused to receive the ‘Best Film’ award from Regev, who said later, “I was very irritated that one of the actresses in the film did not want to go onstage because she self-identifies as a Palestinian. Whoever self-identifies as a Palestinian — they can move and live elsewhere… And if actors receiving prizes from the State of Israel define themselves as Palestinians, it is a very serious problem.”
Disclosure: Siân Robertson is an organiser for the New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, an umbrella organisation that aims to unite the many Palestine solidarity groups within New Zealand as a united front aligned with the international, Palestinian-led ‘Boycott Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.