Victorian Police were called to The Jam Factory in Melbourne last night after Queer Palestinians and their allies protested outside the screening of an Israeli Government-funded film at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival that has been criticised for allegedly pinkwashing Israeli apartheid.
Queer Palestinian activist, organiser and storyteller Jeanine Hourani and others took to the streets and protested outside The Jam Factory, where the film was screened last night in response to MQFF’s decision. In footage shared on Twitter, people could be heard chanting: “Out, out, Israel, out; free, free Palestine”.
— Nasser Mashni (@iamthenas) November 19, 2021
— ariel estrins (@arielestrins) November 19, 2021
— ariel estrins (@arielestrins) November 19, 2021
Adam Kalderon’s The Swimmer is an Israeli queer film that’s part of this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival program. It follows an Olympic swimmer as they juggle their feelings for a fellow male athlete and their goal to compete in the Olympic Games.
While the film doesn’t comment on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, according to the local Queer Palestinian community, it’s a film that’s been funded by the Israeli Government in a scheme where artists aren’t allowed to say anything bad about Israel and by a director who’s previously made anti-Palestinian films about the 2012 attack on Gaza from an Israeli perspective. It’s also been accused of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid.
Pinkwashing is a term coined by Palestinians to describe how Israel promotes itself as an LGBTQIA+ safe haven in the Middle East to suggest that Palestine and Palestinians are inherently homophobic. They say it is part of a series of tactics used by the Israeli Government to further invalidate the identity and credibility of Palestine and its people.
It’s similar to the imagery of First Nations people by White Australian colonisers. Queer Jewish woman Dr. Jordy Silverstein said that from living in Australia, we should know “there’s nothing in this country that isn’t part of settler colonialism. The same applies here.”
— Jennine #SaveSheikhJarrah #SaveSilwan (@jennineak) November 18, 2021
After the Queer Palestinian community and their allies reached out to organisers of the festival to request the film be pulled, the MQFF issued a statement on Tuesday (following a neutral statement earlier this month) stating they wouldn’t remove an artist’s work because of where they come from and would try to “remain apolitical”. Soon after, short film filmmakers, volunteers, and a select few board members dropped out of the festival, with several attendees declaring they’d boycott.
You can read more about what Queer Palestinians and their allies had to say about that in an article by our sister site Vice Australia.
I’m a @mqff member, have tickets for the opening tonight and a bunch of other films. With sadness I will not be attending. MQFF needs to take the community’s concerns seriously, pull THE SWIMMER from the program and engage in genuine dialogue with the BDS activists.
— PK (@paulkidd) November 18, 2021
A Victorian Police statement shared with PEDESTRIAN.TV said officers were called just before 9pm on Friday and three people were removed from the cinema. No arrests were made and no one was injured.
Hourani said that the community was “really disappointed” to see police called to the venue given the fact the police have a long history of violence against queer people. Similarly, Dr. Silverstein told us that the response from the Melbourne Queer Film Festival here suggests to her it has diluted what was once a celebration of queer liberation.
“This really speaks to broader issues around the Festival not willing to be brave in their stances, including around the No Cops At Pride campaign,” Hourani said.
When asked about the response to The Swimmer and the protest, a spokesperson for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival directed PEDESTRIAN.TV to the previous statement made this week. That statement, Dr. Silverstein points out, mentions the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement far more than it does “Palestine”.
“There’s a lot of Jews who are involved in this campaign,” she said.
“The BDS is not an inherently anti-Semitic campaign. It’s not about a call for a boycott of Jewish film or Jewish cultural products. It’s a boycott of products by the State of Israel.
“It’s a country that Palestinians have called for boycotts of and that’s why we respond[ed] with a boycott. It’s because there is a specific call from Palestinians and civil society that’s targeted at a country at a state.
“It’s not targeted at individuals or individual things, it’s targeted at the products of the state. And that isn’t anti-Semitic and the protest isn’t anti-Semitic.”
In a statement sent to PEDESTRIAN.TV, a spokesperson for the MQFF added: “Our festival is about a respectful exchange of views and we are being asked to censor a queer artist, under pressure, because of their country of birth, not because of the content they have produced.”
In the statement shared earlier this week, they said: “MQFF acknowledges that it has heard passionately from BDS supporters and from others in the community requesting for the film to be removed. The festival has also received feedback from community members and organisations asking for the film to be kept in the program.
“The MQFF Board considered that even with this small snapshot of community feedback that views within LGBTIQ+ communities are mixed and both keeping or removing the film is likely to go against the views of some within our communities. It also considered that there are other parts of the community who have not had an opportunity to be consulted on this issue.”
Again while the film may not explicitly comment on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the fact it’s funded by the Israeli Government and created by a filmmaker who has previously filmed a movie about the 2012 Gaza attacks from the perspective of the Israeli community is why people claim it’s pinkwashing.
Looking to the future, Hourani said the community plans to host a public counter screening for the films by filmmakers who dropped out of the festival. It follows a similar event Queer Palestinians hosted in March featuring a film about pinkwashing that they screened to raise awareness of the issue within the queer community.Image: Supplied