Israel/Palestine,  Media

Edinburgh Film Fest’s breathtaking U-turn on Israeli sponsorship

Last week I reported that the Edinburgh International Film Festival had returned £300 in sponsorship money from the Israeli Embassy of the UK and removed the embassy from its Honour Board of sponsors.

The money was to be used to enable an Israeli filmmaker to attend the festival and talk about her film to be screened there.

What I didn’t know at the time is that these actions represented a 180-degree reversal of the EIFF’s previous and principled position.

On May 14 Ginnie Atkinson of the EIFF emailed the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign as follows:

We regret that you have found cause to express concern about a source of cultural funding.

We accept funding from a variety of international cultural institutions to enable filmmakers to travel with their work. It is important that filmmakers come with their films to engage in a dialogue with international audiences. The funding comes from cultural support agencies of one sort or another; national cultural institutes, consulates, embassies, and others. This year alone we have financial contributions from Denmark, Poland, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Germany, USA and France. We do not make these arrangements based on any allegiance or otherwise with the political regime in any given country. Choosing not to accept support from one particular country would set a dangerous precedent by politicising what is a wholly cultural and artistic mission. We are firm believers in free cultural exchange, and do not feel that ghettoising filmmakers or restricting their ability to communicate artistically on the basis that they come from a troubled territory is of any benefit. Nor do we see that filmmakers are voices of their government. It is particularly important in situations of strife and conflict that artists be supported in having their voices heard. [My emphasis]

We hope this allays some, if not all, of your concerns.

The Scottish PSC then enlisted filmmaker Ken Loach– who finds increased antisemtism understandable— in their campaign. They issued a statement on his behalf:

“I’m sure many film-makers will be as horrified as I am to learn 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.”

The result was dramatic. The next day Ginnie Atkinson wrote to the Scottish PSC that accepting money from the Israeli embassy was “a mistake” and the festival organizers issued a revised statement:

“The EIFF are firm believers in free cultural exchange and do not wish to restrict film-makers’ abilities to communicate artistically with international audiences on the basis that they come from a troubled regime.

“Although the festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole and, as such, accept that one film-maker’s recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community [my emphasis], therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli embassy.”

Tell us, EIFF: on what basis do you accept that Loach speaks for the entire “film community”? If you’re going to give in to threats and bullying, please come up with a more plausible reason than that.

Are there any filmmakers out there who want to set them straight? I’m sure the EIFF would be interested to hear from you.

I saw Loach’s Spanish Civil War film “Land and Freedom” at the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv. I wonder if he will forbid the showing of his work in Israel.