French Activists Seize Stage at Israel-Backed Film Festival


Activists seize the stage at Cinemed 2014. BDS France 34
Activists seize the stage at Cinemed 2014. BDS France 34

By Ali Abunimah

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ozens of activists disrupted an Israeli-government backed film screening at the Cinemed 2014 festival in Montpellier, southern France, on Sunday, forcing the showing to be abandoned.

As the video shows, dozens of activists stood up as the film began screening, holding signs and chanting: “Israel assassin, Cinemed accomplice,” “Israel out of Cinemed!” and “No partnership with apartheid.”

The protest was intended to “denounce the partnership between the management of Cinemed and the State of Israel through its consulate in Marseille and to demand the expulsion of the State of Israel from Cinemed,” the activist collective BDS-SUD said in a statement.

BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The statement also noted Israel’s colonization of the occupied West Bank, its denial of the right of return of refugees and discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel.

Six Israeli films are being presented at the festival, which runs until 1 November, “in partnership with the Israeli consulate-general in Marseille.”

Activists carrying signs and Palestinian flags took to the stage. Several addressed the hundreds of people in the audience and explained that the action was motivated by Israel’s attack on and blockade of Gaza, “incitement to genocide” by Israeli leaders and other violations of Palestinian rights.

As the activists spoke on stage, others distributed informational leaflets to the audience.

Despite Israel’s summer attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,100 people, including more than 500 children, “Cinemed is rolling out the red carpet for a state that arguably ought to be called genocidal,” the statement adds.

While the video shows the audience listening to the activists, a few people responded to the protest with cries of “Fascists!” the regional newspaper Midi Libre reported.

Whitewashing apartheid

As the protest went on, festival director Jean-François Bourgeot took the microphone and attempted to explain: “Of course one has a right to have an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this is a festival of cinema, and we consider that Israeli cinema contributes to unveiling the reality in that territory.”

He said that during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, “we continued to invite Serb and Croat filmmakers.”

Israeli consulate website declares official “partnership” with Cinemed 2014 festival.

But Bourgeot sidestepped the main issue raised by the protestors: official festival sponsorship by Israel, and Israel’s use of culture to promote itself and conceal its crimes against Palestinians.

A decade ago, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called for a boycott of Israel-sponsored cultural and academic events and institutions, modeled on the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

“Cultural institutions are part and parcel of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people” PACBI says in its boycott guidelines.

“Notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled individual artists, writers and filmmakers, these institutions are clearly implicated in supporting, justifying and whitewashing Israel’s occupation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights,” PACBI adds.

PACBI states that a cultural activity is boycottable “if it is partially or fully sponsored by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution.”

Auditorium cleared

Despite Bourgeot’s intervention the protest continued and the auditorium was evacuated. The protestors then went into the hall outside “to better continue their disturbance,” as Midi Libre put it.

The video shows protestors marching among festival goers, chanting slogans and carrying signs.

The Cinemed festival is in its 36th year and BDS activists have been protesting Israel’s participation since 2011.

The activists include the local group BDS France 34 (the number refers to Department 34, or the region of Hérault on the southern coast, where it is based).

In a commentary at the start of the video above, an activist states that although Israel sponsored the festival again this year, unlike in previous years the Israeli consul-general did not show up in person, “a victory for us.”

No one attending the Cinemed festival last Sunday evening could have missed the Palestine solidarity activists’ message.

Mounting protests

There have been a number of similar protests since Israel’s summertime attack on Gaza including:

BDS-SUD carried out a similar intervention at the opening of the Fourth Festival of Israeli Cinema – also backed by the Israeli government – in the city of Carpentras on 6 October:

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