Montreal, July 29, 2019.
To the attention of the Canada Media Fund, the National Film Board of Canada, Hub Montréal and Xn Québec.
We are a coalition of groups and individuals from Quebec and Canadian civil society involved in an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel and its systematic violations of international law towards the Palestinian people since 1948.
We write to you today to ask the Canada Media Fund, the National Film Board of Canada, Hub Montreal and Xn Quebec to stop their whitewashing of the State of Israel through their involvement in the Israeli-Canadian partnership for an international co-production in digital creation, with the Israeli Gesher Multicultural Film Fund, the Makor Foundation for Israeli Films, and the Haifa International Film Festival.
We are pleased that Canadian institutions are encouraging and funding digital creation, and we appreciate that funding for arts events is difficult. Yet, to draw a parallel, receiving funding from tobacco companies to hold artistic events is no longer acceptable, because as a society, we have decided that associating an artistic event with a harmful product minimized the detrimental nature of that product, or at the very least lent it a positive image in spite of its danger to health. Likewise, in this day and age a partnership with the Israeli state should be seen as unacceptable, and we are outraged that Canadian funding will, through such a partnership, serve to normalize relations with Israeli agencies complicit with a state that is colonial, criminal under international law, and disrespectful of human rights and in particular the rights of the Palestinian people.
Such complicity tarnishes the image of Canadian organizations that are otherwise concerned about their commitment to Indigenous peoples. In particular, this partnership is in direct contradiction with the NFB’s 2017-2020 Indigenous Action Plan. It is well known that the 1876 Indian Act and the creation of reserves served as a model for the State of Israel’s own occupation of Palestinian territory, the forced displacement of Palestinians, and their confinement to restricted areas. For us, recognizing Palestinian rights goes hand in hand with those of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Quebec.
Furthermore, we wish to relay the call from Palestinian civil society which, since 2005, has called on the international community to sever all relations with Israeli official institutions until Israel respects international law by ending of the occupation, lifting the blockade of Gaza, dismantling the Wall, recognizing the equality of all citizens, and respecting the right of return of refugees. The BDS movement is a nonviolent strategy for political and social change, reminiscent of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. We must heed this call as it is our only hope for achieving a just peace in the region.
At a time when the Israeli electorate shifts ever further to the right, as confirmed in the recent elections; at a time when the Israeli state silences Palestinian artists by impeding their movements, destroying their cultural spaces, or imprisoning them; at a time when dozens of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem are requisitioned or destroyed by the Israeli authorities to expand illegal settlements; at a time when Israeli snipers fire live ammunition every Friday on civilian protesters in Gaza, the rapprochement with the United States under Trump further attenuates already meagre official international reactions. It is therefore up to each of us to respond, and to refuse these “Israel/Canada Partnerships” that play into the Israeli strategy seeking to rehabilitate its international image.
Of course, the Israeli state supports artistic work, but it must be understood that this support is part of a campaign to counter the degradation of Israel’s image, and to instrumentalize culture for political purposes. Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, stated openly in 2005 that “We see culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture.” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has said that “cultural institutions provide a showcase in which Israel can present a democratic, liberal and critical image of itself.” And furthermore: “The best and most effective response to the boycott of Israel is to support Israeli actors and encourage their presence in the world. To expose the Other Israel, cultural, art-loving Israel, the Israel of excellence and quality” … in other words, to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinian people!
An ever-increasing number of artists around the world, including in Israel itself, are urging their fellow citizens to support the BDS campaign to compel Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people. Festivals have already been targeted such as Toronto Inside Out, Frameline San Francisco, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival or the Whitney Museum biennial in New York this very month. We salute the courageous solidarity of artists sensitive to the plight of the Palestinian people, such as Annie Lennox, Cassandra Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Natasha Atlas, Aziza Brahim, Cat Power, Vanessa Paradis, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Jason Moran, Richard Bona, Eddie Palmieri, Salif Keita, Jello Biafra, Massive Attack, Susan Sarandon, Peter Brook, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh — and here in Québec, Lhasa, Gilles Vigneault, Richard Desjardins, Mary Ellen Davis, Will Eizlini, Jose Garcia- Lozano — who have foregone traveling to Israel, or participating in events related to Israel.
All these artists help support the Palestinian people in their long struggle for justice, freedom and peace. We call on you once again to terminate this Israeli-Canadian partnership, as we invite Canadian artists to do the same, and to refuse any funding issuing from such partnerships.
For the BDS-Quebec Coalition
See also a similar letter from Israeli citizens : From Israeli citizens to the Canada Media Fund, the National Film Board of Canada, Hub Montréal and Xn Québec – please cancel the international co-production in digital creation project with official Israeli institutions