At what point does one take a stand on apartheid?

When film-maker Ken Loach recently called for the Melbourne International Film Festival to refuse Israeli government funding, the response was electric.

Now, the director of the festival has fully responded (and I’m informed Loach has responded to this response by Richard Moore):

To allow the personal politics of one filmmaker to proscribe a festival position would not only open a veritable floodgate, but also goes against the grain of what festivals stand for. Not that I felt the need to justify ourselves but in my response to Loach, explaining why Melbourne’s film festival would not comply with his demands, I reminded him that it had had a long interest in the Middle East and has programmed many films about the Israel-Palestinian question – most, if not all, sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Loach’s reply was:

“Film festivals will reflect many points of view, which are often radical and progressive. It is also true that there are many brutal regimes and many governments, including our own, which have committed war crimes. But the cultural boycott called for by the Palestinians means that remaining sympathetic but detached observers is no longer an option.”

In other words, everyone has been given a royal dispensation from Loach to commit war crimes bar the Israelis. Far be it for me to act as an apologist for Israel but the logical extension of Loach’s position is absurd. Aside from ignoring the fact that film festivals fulfil an important role in allowing filmmakers to circumvent national censors, is he saying we can continue to programme films from North Korea, from Iran, from China – but we must boycott Israel? On a moral relativity scale does that mean that Iran’s treatment of women is acceptable? Should we keep quiet about how North Korea treats its citizens? Loach disagreed with George Bush’s approach to foreign policy; so was it OK to programme American films during the Bush era?

Loach’s demands were beyond the pale. As a supporter of independent film and filmmaking he should be ashamed of himself.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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