QuAIA Vancouver Calls for Boycott of Queer Film Festival: Open Letter to VQFF

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (Vancouver)

For the last three years, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) Vancouver has worked with others in the community, both locally and globally, to get the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) to adopt a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Resolution that would prevent the state of Israel from using the festival for pinkwashing. We have engaged with a broad cross section of community, both inside and outside the festival and continued to give the festival many opportunities to do the right thing. Much of this work and analysis has been inspired by and learned from the continuing work of groups such as Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS) and alQaws, amongst others.

Our statement of July 31st included the request that the festival pass a BDS resolution no later than November 29th 2014 – The UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is now well past this deadline. QuAIA Vancouver has not received a response from the VQFF but some in the community have received a form letter clearly indicating that the Festival has no intention of honouring this timeframe. Tellingly, the Festival has chosen to respond selectively to only some members of the community and in addition to QuAIA Vancouver, many others who expressed concerned have not received any communication.

Despite this, many hopeful things have occurred since we challenged the festival regarding their inclusion of a pinkwashing advertisement within this year’s program. Spontaneously and independently, the larger queer community has acted with conscience in numerous ways to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Palestine, and to show the festival organizers that we will not quietly allow them to speak in our name when they participate in Israel’s pinkwashing of its brutal occupation of Palestine. Numerous filmmakers chose to withdraw their films and participation in the festival, and organized alternate screenings of their films, including the multiple filmmakers within Sins Invalid. Others remained within the festival and used their film screenings as an opportunity to educate the audience and publicly support the call for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution from the VQFF. Multiple groups within the community have issued statements condemning the festival for including the Yad b’Yad advertisement in their program, and also for their response since. Links to statements from many of these groups and individuals can be found at the Radical Access Mapping Website: http://radicalaccessiblecommunities.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/ramp-on-pinkwashing-at-the-vancouver-queer-film-festival

Despite three long years of repeated attempts to educate and do outreach with the festival to no avail, we had retained some hope that they would carefully consider our concerns.

We had also however, been concerned that the festival board would either continue to characterize this as a “personal and political” issue that it can choose to place outside the festival mandate, or an “advertising policy issue”, or would decide once again to unilaterally determine the appropriate venue, participants, timing and framing of any discussion considering the BDS resolution. Unfortunately a copy of the form letter (selectively sent only to some concerned community members) that we have recently been provided confirms that this is exactly what has happened. Quite simply, the festival selected an apparently “representational” group of board and staff members, discussed the concern (as they define it) amongst themselves, with a process the community had no say in, using a facilitator of their choosing, referencing materials of their own selection, in order to draft recommendations for consideration by the board with a vague promise of sharing something in 2015. Despite references to their “courage,” “vision” and “transparency” sprinkled throughout, they also state that it isn’t feasible to engage with the broader community, despite the widespread demand to do so.

This is not simply an issue regarding the festival’s advertising or programming policy, and any real resolution will need to fully consider how the VQFF’s multiple actions have made it complicit with Israel’s “Brand Israel” pinkwashing propaganda campaign. While we are greatly encouraged by the first inclusion by the VQFF (that we are aware of) of the term “occupation” in a statement, the balance of the letter makes it clear that whatever work was undertaken did not include gaining any meaningful understanding of pinkwashing, Israel’s campaign of hasbara (propaganda), the normalization of a brutal occupation carried out by the settler colonial state of Israel by reframing it as a conflict between equals, and many other crucial aspects.

We are also deeply disappointed to learn that the festival has refused the widely respected Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group’s (SFPIRG) generous and public offer to provide education on these issues.

We are further disappointed that the festival has never contacted QuAIA to discuss this issue at any time, or even to provide reference materials, and are dismayed that they have once again chosen an opaque, unilateral process that is unlikely to produce any lasting resolution. Conversely, our faith in the queer community at large has been greatly reinforced by the spontaneous and courageous actions of so many at this year’s festival, and the magnificent and diverse support they received by many others who attended the alternate screenings and other events.

In truth, we feel that this is not the divisive issue that the festival executive seem to consider it to be, and that all that remains is for the board to exhibit the same courage that others in the community have shown. It only serves the purposes of Israeli hasbara to insist that this is a complicated or difficult issue, and it is increasingly clear that a majority of the queer community do not wish to have “our” festival continue as it has to date.

QuAIA Vancouver has not previously called formally for a boycott of the festival, partly to allow the festival time to fully consider their decisions. The independent boycotts and other actions of the community groups and individuals previously mentioned have been their own decisions of conscience, evidently taken only after significant discussion with representatives of the festival failed to provide an acceptable response. To be clear – the festival’s actions this year and in previous years have been appropriate for boycott under the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) guidelines. There has now been more than reasonable time since this issue was raised by QuAIA Vancouver at the 2012 festival, and the deadline has passed without even a direct response.

Accordingly, QuAIA Vancouver now calls for a full boycott of the festival until it adopts a meaningful BDS resolution.

We would be pleased to engage with festival representatives and others to help draft this resolution, but reiterate that we will never participate in any process that normalizes the occupation of Palestine as a struggle between equals. It also goes without saying thatmediation or conflict resolution methods are extremely inappropriate for this situation – you cannot mediate occupation!

Clearly the wider queer community is respectfully requiring a change from past responses. If the festival wishes to remain relevant for a majority of our community it must now act in solidarity with Palestinian queers and ensure that it never again allows an oppressive colonizing state to pinkwash its crimes in our name. There is no comfortable pinkwashing fence to sit on here – only an ugly apartheid wall that has nothing to do with queer rights and everything to do with occupation. Do the right thing this time.

No more pinkwashing in our name!

Endorsed by the Radical Access Mapping Project (RAMP)

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