Israeli filmmakers call on Locarno Festival to drop ‘complicit’ Israeli film

Israeli filmmakers and artists including Oscar-nominated director Guy Davidi and Turner Prize co-winner Tai Shani have urged Locarno International Film Festival to cancel its Thursday screening of an Israeli film due to concerns over its funding. 

My Neighbor Adolf was funded by the Rabinovich Foundation’s Israel Cinema Project, Israel’s largest film fund. Last week, Artists for Palestine UK revealed that the foundation contractually obligates filmmakers to undertake “that there is not and will not be in the film any presentation, statement or message that calls for … denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state [or] marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning”.

The group of Israeli filmmakers and artists cited leading human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem who have all reported that Israel, far from being a “democracy”, is an apartheid regime.

The filmmakers and artists added: “this regime of oppression was founded through the violent displacement and dispossession of most of the Indigenous Palestinian population. That the Israeli state, its complicit institutions and influential lobby groups would want us as Jewish Israelis to remain silent on this systematic ethnic cleansing is not surprising. But storytellers accepting such censorial and unethical conditions for their film projects is an undeniable form of complicity in covering up this ongoing Nakba that Palestinians face.”

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, called on “all film institutions, including international festivals, cinemas and distributors, to boycott films funded from 2022 onwards by the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts’s Israel Cinema Project.”

Pointing to the foundation’s contractual conditions, PACBI said that “by dictating that any Israeli film producer seeking funding … must not portray on screen Israel’s perpetration of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, the Rabinovich Foundation is conditioning its funding on shielding Israel from international scrutiny and accountability.”

Both PACBI and the Israeli filmmakers emphasised that the content of any film funded by the Rabinovich Foundation is “not relevant” to whether or not it should be boycotted. Rather, according to PACBI, if there are “political strings” attached to a film’s funding, then “the film in question becomes clearly complicit in art-washing Israel’s colonial and apartheid system, contributing to its attempts to obscure or sanitize this reality.”

Israeli documentary filmmaker and film scholar Eyal Sivan added, “any film institution which screens such a film would be in breach of its artistic obligations. It is a cinema of misrepresentation which should have no place in any film festival.”

Read the letter in full below.

We, Jewish Israeli artists and filmmakers, call on Locarno Film Festival to cancel its planned August 4th screening of My Neighbor Adolf. The film was partly funded by the Rabinovich Foundation’s Israel Cinema Project, which attaches racist and explicitly political strings to its funding. The foundation contractually obliges filmmakers to undertake “that there is not and will not be in the film any presentation, statement or message that calls for … denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state [or] marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning”.

Israel is an apartheid state, as Palestinians, South Africans and legal scholars have long argued, and as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have in the last few years confirmed in detailed reports. Far from being a democracy, Israel is “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” as the leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem puts it.

This regime of oppression was founded through the violent displacement and dispossession of most of the Indigenous Palestinian population. That the Israeli state, its complicit institutions and influential lobby groups would want us as Jewish Israelis to remain silent on this systematic ethnic cleansing is not surprising. But storytellers accepting such censorial and unethical conditions for their film projects is an undeniable form of complicity in covering up this ongoing Nakba that Palestinians face.

The largest Palestinian civil society coalition that is leading the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has called on international film festivals to refuse to screen Rabinovich-funded films for this reason. As stated in BDS guidelines set by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and agreed by Palestinian society, the content of any cultural product including films is not relevant to whether it is boycottable. In the case of My Neighbor Adolf, it is the political conditions attached to the funding of the film that is the issue.

We refuse to be silent while the Israeli regime of apartheid, occupation and settler-colonialism oppresses Palestinians and while its public institutions such as the Rabinovich Foundation engenders racism and complicity among filmmakers. We echo the Palestinian call for the boycott of Rabinovich-funded films, and we call on Locarno Film Festival to cancel its complicit screening.

Signed:
Haim Bresheeth-Zabner (filmmaker, scholar), Guy Davidi (filmmaker), Dror Dayan (documentary filmmaker), Avi Hershkovitz (filmmaker), Ohal Grietzer (composer), Liad Hussein Kantorowicz (artist, musician), Yosefa Loshitzky (author, film scholar), Jonathan Ofir (conductor, violinist), Michal Sapir (musician, writer), Eyal Sivan (filmmaker), Tai Shani (artist)