Some excellent replies in response to EIFF's evasion of the issues
-----Original Message-----
From: Ginnie Atkinson
Sent: 14 May 2009 10:16
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject:

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.

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

We will not enter in to further dialogue.

Thank you.

Ginnie Atkinson 
MD  Edinburgh International Film Festival
88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9BZ
Scotland, United Kingdom


 

Dear Ginnie Atkinson

I received your reply to my message protesting your decision to accept sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy in London. I have to say that in its obduracy and blatant disregard for the suffering of men, women, and children in Palestine, the countless victims of Israel's ethnic cleansing and apartheid, it is nothing short of reprehensible.

You are also being disingenuous in accusing those who are dismayed at this decision of attempting to 'ghettoise filmmakers'. This is clearly not the case. On the contrary, speaking for myself, I welcome the free flow of ideas and art as a way of celebrating our common humanity. The point of my complaint and protest is, however, as I'm sure you know, that you have chosen to accept sponsorship from a government which currently operates the largest ghettoisation of human beings in human history.

Indeed, need I remind you that 1.4 million Palestinians currently exist in a hermetically sealed ghetto in the Gaza Strip. There they are being systematically starved, abused, degraded, and slaughtered by the State of Israel. Many of them, I am sure, would love to be able to attend the EIFF this year. Unfortunately, if they dare try to leave their ghetto they will be killed in the process. This is the reality of life for 1.4 million human beings in the world outside the safe environs of the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.

As for setting a precedent, that was already set when the EIFF returned Israeli sponsorship money in 2006 in response to Israel's attack on Lebanon. Therefore, simple logic suggests that in response to an even more destructive and barbaric assault on a civilian population just a few short months ago in Gaza, which both the International Red Cross and the UN described as a war crime, that the same cultural event would continue to take a stand on the side of its victims.

Art and culture is no excuse for disengaging from international law and human rights. Before we are artists, filmmakers or directors of film festivals we are human beings and thereby obligated to take a stand against the barbarism of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and infanticide.

The screams of the Palestinian children, 400 of them, that were slaughtered by Israeli bombs and bullets back in January transcend the importance of any film festival or appeal to culture behind which you have chosen to justify this monstrous decision. Moreover, they render your decision an abomination and an affront to human decency.

Yours sincerely


By all means do not enter into further correspondence; knowing that I have had the last word is reassuring.
These are pure apologies; how can anybody deal with such racists as the Israeli administration? If you are as Catholic as you appear, would you accept that the EIFF show raw film shot by residents of Gaza during the IDF blitzkrieg? That's 'cultural' wouldn't you say to show the human suffering caused by another group of so called humans?

From your decision it appears that the EIFF has nothing to teach me about culture; I am a 68 year retired Professional Engineer and have no axes to grind and no connections with Arab, Jew or Israeli. I am ethnic English, whatever that is, and was a child when Ben Gurion started what turned out to be a holocaust. I see as quite bizarre the similarities between what happens in Israel now and what happened in Nazi Germany to the Jews.

History will make a chilling analysis I feel sure.

It is sad to say that many decent Israelis would be affected by any blanket bans, but the ones I know are prepared to accept that.


Dear Ginnie

Thank you for your prompt response. May I say that I certainly would not wish to undermine the impartiality of the work of the EIFF or contribute to ‘ghettoising filmmakers’. I simply want to be clear that I think that it is inappropriate to accept funding from a regime which advocates ethnic cleansing and occupation and is continually in breach of international law. I have no issue with filmmakers from any part of our world engaging with international audiences no matter what their message is. None of the other countries you mention, making financial contributions are in breach of international law and I don’t feel that is a meaningful comparison: but would EIFF accept funding from the Zimbabwian Government for example? A reasonable comparison under the circumstances.

Thank you again for your prompt response, but I’m afraid it does nothing to address my key issue or allay any concerns I have about the appropriateness of accepting funding from the Israeli Embassy. You will be aware that Edinburgh voted on its feet earlier this year in response to the atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli Government in Gaza with hugely attended demonstrations and rallies. I would imagine this could be reflected in their response to your funding package for the 2009 EIFF.

I have the greatest respect for EIFF and all that it achieves, but I am genuinely concerned about the potential shame and dishonour which could be brought upon both our city and festival if Israel is a key stakeholder in the provision of our cultural and artistic mission.

Yours sincerely


Dear Ginnie

So I suppose you would accept money from Nazi Germany or the Ku Klux Klan? - It is called "ethics" something which seems to lack from the dictionary of the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Israel has been committing crimes against the Palestinian people for decades, in defiance of international law and basic standards of human rights. In January this year, the Israel Occupation Forces murdered 1400 defenseless Palestinians, trapped under a genocidal siege in what has become the biggest open air prison in the world.

You speak about "free cultural exchange" so I wonder what do you have to say about Israel's bombing and destruction of 33 schools during the last massacre? What do you have to say of the hundreds of Palestinian artists who cannot move between Palestinian towns due to inhumane checkpoints let alone leave the country? What do you have to say about the imprisonment of Samieh Jabbarin, artist and a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is under house arrest for daring to speak out in protest of Israeli massacre of Palestinians? Would he be allowed to come to the Edinburgh Film Festival?

Israel film and arts are complicit with the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians. Apart from a tiny minority of Israelis, most have nothing to say about the wiping off the map of Palestine or indeed celebrate Israeli statehood (ethnic cleansing) through the arts.

Therefore we will continue to demand that the Edinburgh Film Festival return the tainted money and keep up the pressure.

Best wishes


Dear Ginnie

Thank you for your response.

Do you at least accept that our discussion is not about people "coming from a troubled territory", but on your accepting sponsorship from a regime that is engaged in crimes against humanity? Remember that I have made no point here about film- makers or artists, but on the financial contribution from the Israeli Embassy, and I refuse to have my complaint misrepresented.

Regards


Dear Ginnie

Thanks for a quick response.
Of course I accept that film makers are not generally the voice of their government.
However, embassies are. And it is the Israeli embassy that is being promoted through sponsorship of the festival.
I continue to urge you to return the money and disassociate the festival from the Israeli government.
Yours sincerely


No, Ginny, I'm afraid not. If the money had come from groups actively involved in trying to resolve the conflict peacefully then fair enough.

Alas, the Israeli government is on a daily basis involved in the absolute opposite. Please open your eyes, and inform yourself. The Pope no less has expressed his feelings about this issue only yesterday. So, unfortunately your response just wont do. In fact, it's a disgrace. Money from the Israeli state stinks, and is available as part of their effective, but extremely cynical efforts to retain some degree of respectalibity. If you use the money to fund documentaries revealing the nature of Israeli apartheid, then maybe that would be an appropriate use of dirty money, but otherwise No.
Please reconsider.


Dear Madam/Sir

Whilst I firmly agree that film makers and artists are not the same as the government of a country this was emphatically not the point that I raised in my email. The issue that I was concerned with is not the existence of Israeli films or directors at the festival, but the funding for the festival from the Israeli Embassy, a section of a government that is illegally occupying Palestinian land and killing thousands of people in the process. Would you support funding from the embassy of Burma?

By misconstruing my email to you it seems to me that you are deliberately distracting from the focus of my email that was that by accepting money from a section of the Israeli state (i.e. the embassy) you are implicitly supporting the illegal occupation. This is especially insensitive as it comes just a few months after the massacre of over 1400 people in Gaza. You have not allayed my concerns and so I stand by my decision not to go to the festival and not to inform the LSE film society membership about it, funded as it is by blood money.

Regards


Dear Ginnie Atkinson

As filmmakers who also programme Palestinian and Israeli film, we were surprised to read your letter of response to Scottish PSC which we noticed on their website. It seems inexplicably naïve for a film festival to claim that cultural and artistic missions can or should be separated from political realities.

No-one has asked the EIFF to ban Israeli filmmakers or their films. The problem many people have is with offering a platform for the Israeli state to present itself as a sponsor of ‘culture’ while it simultaneously, and brazenly, crushes all Palestinian cultural aspiration and infrastructure. You claim that you believe in ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘do not believe in ghettoising filmmakers’ – well so do we, which is why we ask you to refuse funding from the state that regularly prevents Palestinian artists, students, academics and others from leaving the ghettos which they have been put in. Arguments around ‘freedom of expression’ cannot seriously be invoked in a situation in which one party has the privilege of power and freedom, while the other has none.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is sending a message to Palestinian filmmakers, artists, and society as whole, that it’s business as usual and Israel may continue to present herself as sponsor of culture at high-profile international festivals, while the destruction of Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and East Jerusalem continue apace. Please consider the human cost of Palestinian cultural expression, and think again.

Yours Sincerely


Dear Ginnie Atkinson

I have just heard the news that your festival has accepted sponsorship from Israel.

I have since come accross a copy of what is perhaps a standard response to complaints you have received (I can only assume this is a standard response as it fails to address the issues put to you).

Your response seems to demonstrate an ignorance of the implications of your actions. In particular, the following extract is very troubling, for reasons which I hope are now apparent to you:

"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."

Surely you are aware that Israeli's are not the "ghettois[ed]" in this conflict, and that Israel is well practiced at using cultural sponsorship as a propoganda tool.

If you are happy to be a vehicle for Israeli propoganda, please keep hold of their money.
But understand that it comes at considerable cost to the festival's hard-fought reputation.

In 2006, you did the right thing in returning Israeli sponsorship in the wake of the Lebannon crisis. The crisis for the Palestinians is no less deserving of acts of international solidarity, even if such acts imply a financial burden.

As an Edinburgh resident, and regular of the Filmhouse and the EIFF, I would be disappointed to have to end our relationship. However, given that I accept that solidarity with the oppressed sometimes means making sacrifices, giving up my favourite cinema is a small price to pay and I am absolutely prepared to do so. I will also make every effort to encourage my friends to do likewise.

I had planned to visit the Filmhouse this weekend, so please let me know as a matter of urgency if the money is to be returned or not.

Yours sincerely


Dear Ms Atkinson

I read your response to the call for a boycott of contributions to your festival received from Israel. Whilst not all cultural institutions in Israel are imbedded in the Israeli government policies of occupation and humiliation of the Palestinina people, it is a very safe bet that most of them, as is the case with educational institutions, are heavily indebted to that policy. The recent Israeli campaign in Gaza (and the overall public support it received within Israel) stands as proof of that.

There has never been a modern state, like Israel, where the promotion of apartheid policies is conducted under the guise of culture, from art to dance to film making and theatre. The message and the aim are, to a large extent, coloured by the general policies of the state of Israel. It is impossible to separate these activities when it comes to Israel. No wonder the boycott campaigns are spreading throughout the world.

It is possible that you may wish to publicize the source of your contributor to deflect criticism about such contribution. The Edinburgh Film Festival prides itself for its international reputation. I am sure that if the Israeli contribution is rejected and returned, the Festival would still survive...and with dignity.

Sincerely

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