Aldeburgh DocFest disinvites author, invites Israel lobby CEO to discuss ‘GAZA’

On Sunday, Aldeburgh Documentary Festival will host a discussion that follows a screening of the acclaimed documentary ‘GAZA’, a film about Palestinian lives in the besieged enclave. Extraordinarily, the panel is advertised to include the CEO of the UK’s biggest pro-Israel public relations group, BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research). 

Clearly something has gone very awry with programming principles at Aldeburgh DocFest.  

Below, journalist and author Sarah Helm who has been reporting from Gaza during the ‘Great March of Return’ protests, describes how she was invited, and then disinvited, from the GAZA panel at Aldeburgh DocFest. Her statement gives an indication of the confused and troubling logic at work behind the scenes. 

It can never be appropriate or ethical for an independent cultural organisation to provide a platform for a PR company for Israel that is overtly complicit with the oppression of Palestinian people.  Filmmakers and audiences deserve better.

Artists for Palestine UK urges the festival programmers to get in touch, so that we can help connect Aldeburgh DocFest with one or more of the knowledgeable Palestinian artists, writers and speakers in the south of England who could enrich a proper discussion about Gaza, with reference to their own lived experience. 

“I’m the journalist “unplatformed” from the Aldeburgh DocFest screening of ‘Gaza’. The festival is this week-end. I was invited to be in a panel to discuss the documentary.

In the 1990s I was Jerusalem correspondent for the Independent and visited Gaza often. Since then I have worked in Gaza as a freelance for the Independent, Sunday Times, The New York Review of Books, Newsweek and the Observer, most recently spending three weeks there for The Sunday Times this summer when I wrote a piece about the border sniper shooting for The Sunday Times. When in August Jill Green, the DocFest organiser, invited me to join a panel to discuss the Gaza film, I naturally was pleased to accept.

But Ms Green then emailed me about a month or so later to say she was “embarrassed” to tell me that I was no longer invited because it had been decided the panel would not be “balanced” if it had me on it. She said she “knew my views” and had to have a more ‘balanced panel”.

The decision to “uninvite” me was particularly unsettling for me as I am currently working on re-erecting the lost stories of Palestinian refugees, whose stories have been buried or ignored over the years.

According to the DocFest program published on line, the “balanced” panel is now three men, one a representative of BICOM, the UK’s main pro-Israel lobby.

From details published there is no Palestinian voice on the panel and no woman and nobody who has recently spent time inside Gaza.

There is little doubt the organisers were pressured into removing me and it is extremely disappointing that a cultural event such as this should feel obliged to constitute a panel according to political calculations and pressures about what constitutes “ balance” – which is a highly tainted value judgement in any event. I pointed out to Miss Green that my views are based on painstaking in depth research over many years and I was surprised she knew what my views were as I am still formulating them.

My last book on a Nazi concentration camp for women won The History Today prize in 2015 and was not accused of being unbalanced.

Ms Green did not reply. By the time the panel chair emailed to say I could come along to the event in any case, I had made other plans.”

Sarah Helm

*Picture credit: ‘GAZA’ documentary


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