The latest battleground of the anti-Israel campaign that persuaded New Zealand singer Lorde to cancel her Tel Aviv concert is the Doc Edge festival.
After a letter-writing campaign failed to stop the screening of a film about Israel’s founder and first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion titled Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, Peace Action Wellington is threatening to disrupt the screening at the opening of the Doc Edge festival in Wellington tonight.
Peace Action Wellington claims the film is “Zionist propaganda” and that the festival is breaching the cultural boycott of Israel.
Spokesperson Alex Davies said, “this is state-sponsored propaganda the festival are planning to screen at the expense of people living under a brutal and illegal occupation”.
On the same grounds, another group, Palestine Solidarity Network, called for Victoria Hanna, an Israeli singer, to be “uninvited” from performing at WOMAD earlier this year, without success.
Peace Action claims that the Israeli Embassy’s funding for the Israeli filmmaker, Yariv Mozer, to attend the festival makes Doc Edge complicit with the Israeli government.
“Withdrawing the film requires courage but it is the right thing to do and will show that Doc Edge will not be used as a vehicle for racist propaganda.”
It is also aggrieved by the showing of the film on May 14, the eve of what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba”, or the “catastrophe”, the date that Israel declared independence as a state in 1948. The following day Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbours Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
The war lasted until February 1949 when Israel gained ascendancy and the UN brokered a peace deal.
The organisers of Doc Edge say the demand to withdraw the film is “ridiculous” and an affront to freedom of speech, noting that neither the New Zealand Government nor any other is a party to a boycott of Israel.
Doc Edge chair, Glenn Johnstone, said the festival, “will not bow to pressure groups who seek to censor content on the basis that a film takes a point of view with which that group disagrees”.
Following the selection of films, cultural organisations and embassies regulary offer travel support to filmmakers to attend the New Zealand festival.
“In this instance, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada and Israel posts have provided support to their national filmmakers for this purpose. This type of support, which gives audiences the chance to meet and engage with filmmakers, is invaluable,”said Johnstone
They say they curated the film because it is an important historical and cinematic moment, and as with all their documentaries, their objective is to offer a diverse range of viewpoints, and stimulate debate and dialogue.
The interview was shot in 1968 when Ben-Gurion was 82, five years after he stepped down from office and six years before his death. Somehow, the sound and visual footage got separated, leaving only the silent footage. The soundtrack was later discovered and the director, Yariv Mozer, who is an independent award-winning filmmaker, reunited both parts, crafting the documentary from this interview, together with other archive footage and conversations. The film is an international co-production between Israel, France, Canada and Germany and has played at festivals around the world.
The film has been critically acclaimed as one of undeniable historical significance. As reviewed by the New York Times, “Ben-Gurion’s message, in the sessions conducted five years before his death, is, at this point, largely a peaceful, non-expansionist one … It conveys a satisfying, informative portrait of a well-read man who looks back at his life, good decisions and bad, with wisdom and intelligence.” Screen Daily notes: “He speaks of future peace for Israel, a peace which, he says, would only be possible with Israel’s withdrawal from all of the territories that it conquered during the Six-Day War.”
Doc Edge says scheduling of the film within the festival sits alongside films about former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, human rights violations in China, the rise of the Greek right wing, the Syrian crisis and Jihadist movement (the last two told by Arab filmmakers). The Ben-Gurion film has a pro-peace message and should be of interest to all sides of the debate, Doc Edge says.
German broadcaster NDR, which is one of the film’s major partners, issued a statement in support of the screening: “To target this film for a boycott shows that the boycotters are not interested in dialogue. It is more important than ever to show this film to not only Israeli but also global audiences. Mr. Ben-Gurion’s insights and thoughts are frank, critical and certainly not comfortable for staunch supporters of the status quo. Whoever boycotts this film silences a voice that should and must be heard.”
The Israeli embassy confirmed today that it was paying for filmmaker Mozer’s flights and accommodation.
Head of public affairs Patricia Deen said the embassy had regularly brought Israeli filmmakers to New Zealand in the past seven years and there had never been a problem.
“The Documentary Edge Festival screens films from all over the world and creates an open platform for dialogue about shared human interests and freedom of expression. It gives filmmakers a voice regardless of the political views of their home country. Calling for a cultural boycott by singling out Israel, the only democratic country in the Middle East, will not further any peace. Culture and art should be separated from politics.”
Deen said that three years ago New Zealand and Israel signed a screen production agreement which she hoped would lead to co-productions and a strong connection between filmmakers in the two countries .