Political Notebook: Queer activists reel over Israel, Frameline ties
by Matthew S. Bajko
At issue is the fact that for the last several years, the Israeli Consulate-General in San Francisco has been listed among the sponsors of the festival. The consulate, as the French, Canadian, and other consulates do for their own citizens, mainly helps to cover the transportation costs for Israeli filmmakers whose movies are being screened.
"It is not a huge amount of money. It allows us to have the filmmaker here and really enriches the experience for our audience," said Frameline managing director Matt Westendorf.
But queer cineastes are petitioning festival organizers to drop Israeli sponsorship due to what they see as the Jewish state's mistreatment of Palestinians.
"It is disingenuous when people talk about Israel as some beacon of hope for queers. It is impossible to talk about freedom of queer folks in an apartheid state," said Heba Nimr, who is of Palestinian and Egyptian descent and who has attended Frameline for more than a decade. "It is a racist state and a particularly egregious violator of human rights and has been since its founding."
A spokeswoman for the Israeli consulate did not respond to a request for comment.
About a year ago, Palestinian artists and their allies, including some Israelis, called for a cultural boycott of the Israeli government because of what they contend is an "appalling disregard for international law and human rights." More than 100 artists and writers â€“ including filmmakers Sophie Fiennes, Elia Suleiman, Ken Loach, Haim Bresheeth , and Jenny Morgan ; writers John Berger , Arundhati Roy, Ahdaf Soueif, and Eduardo Galeano; and musicians Brian Eno and Leon Rosselson â€“ have signed on to a petition being circulated and presented to cultural events around the world.
Petition organizers said film festivals in Edinburgh, Scotland and Locarno, Italy have headed their call and are now pressing Frameline to sign on to the boycott. The local pressure is being organized by members of QUIT! â€“ Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism â€“ and the Southwest Asian and North American queer community. They liken it to the boycott against Coors Brewing Company due to the owner of the beer maker funding antigay groups.
"Israel has violated 90 resolutions of the United Nations. We feel many queers would not want our cultural institutions to be partnering with a government like that," said QUIT! founder Kate Raphael, who also led a boycott against the World Pride held in Jerusalem.
In March, Frameline received the petition with more than 100 signatories, including a dozen film festival members and volunteers, and several Frameline visionary and benefactor donors. Supporters are quick to note that they are not seeking a boycott of Israeli films or in any other way trying to interfere with artistic decisions, but only asking Frameline to not partner directly with the Israeli government.
"We want to have a conversation with the festival," said Nimr. "Our preference is to meet with them before this year's festival. We will see what happens, but we would love to talk to them."
Frameline's board and top management discussed the petition request, but decided not to discontinue its relationship with the Israeli consulate. Westendorf said while the board felt joining in a cultural boycott falls outside of Frameline's mission, the festival is open to having a dialogue with the petition organizers.
"We recognize they are bringing up legitimate issues and an important debate," said Westendorf. "Our goal is to use media arts to build understanding between cultures. We really looked to our mission to make the decision.
"We just feel part of our mission is engaging foreign governments and promoting queer film around the world," he added. "It has the potential to create dialogue and debate regarding queer issues, especially among government officials and that could affect policy. And that is a good thing."
The dustup has some longtime Frameline contributors threatening to pull their financial support and activists mulling over what sort of protest or action to mount at this year's festival.
"The last few years it has been really distressing to sit there at the Castro Theatre and see up on the screen or hear" about the Israeli consulate's involvement with the festival, said Campbell resident Soher Ussef, who donates $1,200 to be a Frameline visionary member each year.
Ussef, a lesbian from Egypt, said many of her queer Middle Eastern friends are Palestinian and support the cultural boycott. Â
"None of my friends are heavy attendees of the film festival as I am, but they will come to see certain films. We look at each other and our jaws drop when Israeli sponsorship comes on the screen," she said.
Ussef contends that the festival's refusal to end its ties to the Israeli government is hurting its fundraising in the Bay Area's LGBT Arab community.
"Absolutely, at this point I am really reconsidering whether I should continue my support," she said. "I really, really hope Frameline will reconsider and make the right decision not to accept further sponsorship from the Israeli consulate."
Nat Smith, a black transgender queer filmmaker who has a short documentary in this year's festival, said he is perplexed as to why Frameline is jeopardizing its financial support over such a small amount of money. Were the festival to drop the Israeli sponsorship, Smith believes those backing the boycott would make up for the lost funds.
"I don't want to keep that filmmaker from coming to the festival. I am sure if people did a call to support funding to bring this filmmaker, people would come up with the money. I would donate and I have never donated before," said Smith, who intends to discuss the issue at this year's festival. "Hopefully, we can at least meet and they will make a decision about next year's funding."
This year, at least, the Israeli government will be back on the sponsor's list. It is paying to fly filmmaker Eytan Fox , the director of The Bubble, to take part in a Q&A about his new movie, described as a queer Romeo and Juliet in which Noam, a handsome record-store attendant in Tel Aviv who serves part-time with the Israeli Army at a checkpoint on the border of the Palestinian territories, falls for Ashraf, a soulful Palestinian who crosses through the checkpoint one day, then turns up again on the gay party scene in Tel Aviv.
According to a synopsis of the film, Noam and his group of gay friends oppose Israel's Palestinian policy and organize anti-occupation raves. Yet when Ashraf moves in with Noam, the couple is forced to confront political and family pressures that threaten to tear them apart.
The 117-minute movie, shot in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, will be shown Monday, June 18 at the Castro Theatre and is co-presented by the Jewish Community Federation's LGBT Alliance.
Event to raise funds for Ammiano
Friends and allies of Supervisor Tom Ammiano are throwing a fundraiser Sunday, May 20 to help the openly gay city leader in his bid to replace San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno (D) in his 13th District seat. Leno, who is termed out in 2008 and making his own bid to oust state Senator Carole Migden (D) from her 3rd District Seat, has already endorsed Ammiano in the race.
Ammiano declared his intention to run last year, and since then, has amassed a long list of endorsers, including Migden, nine of his board colleagues (everyone except newcomer Ed Jew), District Attorney Kamala Harris, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and city Treasurer Jose Cisneros. About the only two locally elected officials not listed on his campaign Web site at www.tomammiano.com are Mayor Gavin Newsom and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting. All this before he plans to officially kick-off his campaign on June 4.
The event Sunday starts at 1 p.m. at Charanga Restaurant, 2351 Mission Street (between 19th and 20th), with attendees asked to contribute at least $25 to Ammiano's campaign.
Last week's Political Notebook inaccurately reported that Long Beach Pride had not published Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 's 2006 Pride letter. After the B.A.R. went to press last week (Wednesday, May 9) a co-chair of Long Beach Pride called and said they did run the letter last year, but only because their guidebook was printed prior to a discussion among the state's Pride organizers about withholding or responding to the governor's letter due to his veto of a gay marriage bill in 2005.
This year, the Long Beach Pride guidebook includes a washed out copy of the governor's letter, with a message superimposed on top from the Pride committee.
"We felt it was inappropriate to reproduce that letter here because he again proposed to veto the gay marriage legislation," said Vanessa Romain, Long Beach Pride's co-president. "Last year we did put it in and we did get a little flack. People asked, 'Why did you do such a thing?'"