BOYCOTT, divestment and sanctions (BDS) supporters, a number of them Jewish, took to Chapel Street on Friday night, to protest the screening of Israeli film The Swimmer at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) .
The group of over 50 activists at the Jam Factory waved Palestinian flags and brandished signs that read, “No pride in apartheid”, and “Queer Jews against pinkwashing Israeli apartheid”.
Police ensured protesters, who were chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” were blocked from entering the cinemas.
The Swimmer focuses on homophobia within elite sport and has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Calling the protest “disappointing and disheartening, filmgoer Noa Shagan, who identifies as LGBTQI+ and Israeli, told The AJN, “The Jewish queer community isn’t looking to silence LGBTQI+ Palestinian voices, so why attempt to stifle the voices of your Jewish counterparts who are simply looking to celebrate LGBTQI+ stories.”
Protest organisers claimed that, by screening the film, the MQFF is “complicit in torture”, accusing them of “pinkwashing” Israel, which they describe as “a deliberate strategy used to deflect international attention from its gross violations of Palestinian human rights and international law”.
While Israel is seen as having a thriving LGBTQI+ scene, in much of the Middle East members of the LGBTQI+ community suffer repression and persecution.
MQFF co-director David Micallef told The AJN that one of the most important aspects of their decision-making process is “not to discriminate against artists based on their ethnicity, cultural identity, or country of origin”.
“The reaction to the screening of The Swimmer has not changed this fundamental value in our organisation,” he added.
Michael Barnett, from Jewish LGBTQI+ advocacy group Aleph Melbourne, told The AJN that while the organisation does not take a position on Middle East politics, it stands in solidarity with all LGBTQI+ people, “no matter where they live, or whether they are facing oppression due to religious ideology or state-imposed intolerance”.
Recalling that Aleph Melbourne has previously walked “hand-in-hand” with the gay Arab and Lebanese contingent at Pride March, he said, “We support telling more stories, not less, and certainly do not support the censorship of any of them, as that is the start of a slippery slope.”
Dvir Abramovich, chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said, “Ask yourselves, when was the last time you saw a Gay Pride Parade in the West Bank or Gaza? The treatment of gays, women and ethnic minorities in Israel is a thousand times better than in any country in the Middle East or by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.”