By Jesse Bacon
On Tuesday, I posted about a free documentary screening. I then edited that post when I learned that the film received Israeli government funding. I provided the disclaimer for folks who are observing the full cultural boycott of Israel, (which my sponsor Jewish Voice for Peace is not). However, it turns out that the actual call for cultural boycott does not demand the boycott of films simply for receiving government funding, only those that are used to promote the government in some way.
Many thanks to the readers who pointed out both the funding and the actual call (as well as the fact that I originally refereed to the women soldiers as refusers when in fact they had served.) All in all, a good lesson in what is and isn’t the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Here’s the text from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) explaining the criteria for applying the boycott.
(1) Cultural product is commissioned by an official Israeli body
All cultural products commissioned by an official Israeli body (e.g., government ministry, municipality, embassy, consulate, state or other public film fund, etc.) deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds, as they are commissioned and thus funded by the Israeli state — or any of its complicit institutions — specifically to help the state’s propaganda or “rebranding” efforts aimed at diluting, justifying, whitewashing or otherwise diverting attention from the Israeli occupation and other violations of Palestinian rights and international law. However, this level of explicit complicity is difficult to ascertain quite often, as information on such direct commissioning may not be readily available or may even be intentionally concealed.
(2) Product is funded by an official Israeli body, but not commissioned (no political strings)
The term “political strings” here specifically refers to those conditions that obligate a fund recipient to directly or indirectly serve the Israeli government’s “rebranding” or propaganda efforts. Products funded by official Israeli bodies — as defined in category (1) above — but not commissioned, therefore not attached to any political strings, are not per se subject to boycott.
Individual cultural products that receive state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and PR interests, are not boycottable, according to the PACBI criteria. Accepting such political strings, on the other hand, would clearly turn the cultural product or event into a form of complicity, by contributing to Israel’s efforts to whitewash or obscure its colonial and apartheid reality, and would render it boycottable, as a result.
While an individual’s freedom of expression, particularly artistic expression, should be fully and consistently respected in this context, an individual artist, filmmaker, writer, etc., Israeli or not, cannot be exempt from being subject to boycotts that conscientious citizens around the world (beyond the scope of the PACBI boycott criteria) may call for in response to what is widely perceived as a particularly offensive act or statement by the cultural worker in question (such as direct or indirect incitement to violence; justification — an indirect form of advocacy — of war crimes and other grave violations of international law; racial slurs; actual participation in human rights violations; etc.).
At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.