QuAIA Vancouver Statement on the 2013 Vancouver Queer Film Festival

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (Vancouver) – August 16, 2013

QuAIA Vancouver recognizes that we do this work as settlers on unceded Coast Salish Territories, the lands of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh-ulh Úxwumixw (Squamish), Stó:lo, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous people resisting settler colonialism on Turtle Island, in Palestine, and around the world.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) Vancouver writes as the 25th Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) opens. This recent iteration of QuAIA Vancouver was ignited last year in response to the inclusion of two films in the VQFF’s programming that broke the Palestinian call for global boycott of Israel (for more information, see the open letter issued by QuAIA Vancouver to the VQFF Executive Director, Director of Programming, and Board of Directors in August 2012: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/sites/mediacoop.ca/files2/mc/quaia_letter_to_vqff.pdf).

This boycott comes in response to the call of Palestinian civil society – including Palestinian Queers for BDS and Al-Qaws – for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until Palestinian human rights are recognized. This includes cultural boycott – a boycott that targets Israeli cultural institutions that are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation. We urged the festival to adopt BDS principles (http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047). Specifically, we expressed our strong objection to the screening of the films “Joe and Belle” and “Invisible Men,” both of which were heavily promoted by the Israeli Consulate, an agency of the Israeli government, throughout their North American screening tours prior to Vancouver. In addition, the latter film, while purporting to raise the voices of Palestinian queer refugees, was in fact a deeply problematic portrayal that highlighted the voice and perspective of the Israeli colonizer above those of Palestinian refugees and communities.

Cultural boycott principles do not exclude individuals or films based on nationality. The cultural boycott does, however, target those cultural products and voices officially sponsored at the behest of an apartheid state and its institutions. The Israeli state has used “pinkwashing” as a principal tactic of its propaganda campaigns internationally by presenting itself as a haven for queer people while casting Palestinians as enemies and oppressors, using racist language and Islamophobic stereotyping. This includes the prominent public promotion of Israeli films through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and when filmmakers join in pinkwashing campaigns, they choose to become part of an orchestrated state campaign to promote “Brand Israel.” We called on the Festival to reject Brand Israel – a racist, oppressive brand that undermines, attacks and negates Palestinian and Arab queers.

With the wide support of many local and international queer and trans community allies, QuAIA Vancouver has urged the VQFF to adopt a formal resolution supporting BDS and adopt the Palestinian guidelines for cultural boycott of Israel, in solidarity with and in response to the Palestinian civil society calls – and specific Palestinian queer calls – to recognize the Palestinian and global “picket line” and not break the boycott. To date, the festival has not responded to any of our communications.

We note that this year there are no “Brand Israel” films on the VQFF schedule. We believe this is a partial victory and hope that it is the beginning of recognition that a queer film festival that wishes to speak to queer legacies of struggle, movement building and justice must not be one that is complicit in apartheid, occupation and racism. Further, as QuAIA noted last year, this festival must belong to our communities – including Palestinian and Arab queers and queers of colour. However, we have heard reports – though not had it confirmed directly yet by the festival – that the festival board opposes the adoption of a BDS resolution. We continue our call for the adoption of a BDS resolution without delay.

We also notice that in response to QuAIA Vancouver’s activism and our recent panel on Settler Colonialisms and Pinkwashing, the VQFF is holding a panel on Cultural Boycott as part of this year’s programming. There has been no communication with QuAIA Vancouver about this panel. Rather than recognizing cultural boycott as a tool of oppressed groups to call for international accountability around their movements, the panel asks if boycott is an “effective option towards inspiring peace, or is ongoing engagement a better path.” We are also concerned that by framing their panel in this way, the festival has predetermined that “engagement” with a brutal occupying force is a valid path to “peace.” This normalizes Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation, and fails to accurately portray its pinkwashing campaign as the insidious cultural weapon it truly is. Boycott is what the oppressed Palestinian people have called for; not ongoing engagement (by featuring films that are part of a propaganda campaign to exalt an apartheid state and demonize the nation oppressed by that state). The VQFF cannot tell Palestinians how best to “inspire peace,” but can do its own work to inspire justice by passing a BDS resolution without any further delay and instituting cultural boycott guidelines.

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