Frameline, San Francisco's international LGBT film festival, has an Israel problem. Here's what's happened. In 2010, after a break of several years, Framline accepted funding from the Israeli consulate to fly out Yaer Qedar, an Israeli filmmaker whose film was being screened as part of the festival. In doing so, Frameline found itself the focus of a vigorous protest from queer groups across the Bay Area, part of a larger coalition calling for boycotting, sanctioning, and divesting from Israel until it addresses the human rights violations it is committing against Palestinian civilians. These protests have continued through the 2011 festival and appear, as of this writing, to be taking shape for the 2012 festival as well.
Throughout the years of protests, the festival seemed to be taking a stance of official neutrality. In a June 2010 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, K.C. Price, Executive Director of Frameline, is quoted as saying, "We understand this is a very sensitive subject for both sides. As an arts and cultural organization, we try to stay nonpartisan." In an article from the Bay Area Reporter in June 2011, Price continues: “Frameline is an arts and culture organization, and we don't take political points of view.”
However, a report recently leaked by PrettyQueer.com and exhaustively detailed by Mondoweiss indicate a very different story behind the scenes. A study of “how one organized Jewish community continually responds and prepares to for ongoing threats” (ie, boycotts and protests), the report collects press clippings about the Frameline boycotts and includes emails showing close collaboration between the Israeli consulate, Frameline staff, and Jewish Federation employees.
The leaked emails show conversations between Frameline and Jewish Federation staff about trying to get pro-boycott ads taken down from bus shelters. They show discussion between Federation employees about how best to disseminate pro-festival/pro-Israel letters in response to articles in the Bay Area Reporter. They tell a story of a festival frustrated by the protests it is facing. More than that, though, they tell the story of a festival that seems to misunderstand exactly what nonpartisan means.
Price felt comfortable calling actively working with the Israeli consulate to silence protests against Israel's human rights violations an apolitical stance. A memo from the Department of Common Sense: taking sides in an incredibly contentious discussion is, in fact, incredibly partisan. Given the boycott, choosing to take money from the Israeli government is, in fact, taking a side. Working with them to respond to the boycotters is a political decision.
In the leaked report, the festival's protestors say that the Israeli government violates Palestinian human rights. Its supporters say that Israel is a bastion of human rights because it is relatively accepting of gay people for a Middle Eastern country. That isn't a counter-argument to the boycotters' protests. It doesn't answer any of their questions. And it doesn't address how the Palestinians are actually being treated.
At the very least, I hope that in the future Frameline has the integrity to admit it is taking sides—to say that it disregards the concerns about the treatment of Palestinians that the boycotters have and prioritizes its relationship with the Israeli government. What I really hope, though, is that Frameline, since it is going to be political, takes the time to do its research, which means talking to the boycotters as well as the consulate. I hope Frameline's staff and board think long and hard if supporting Israel's commitment to gay rights is worth supporting Israel's commitment to not talk about what is or is not happening to the Palestinians. But pretending to be nonpartisan while secretly taking a side? Closets, my friends, are for clothes.
Ariel "Speedwagon" Federow is a Brooklyn-based performance artist, activist, storyteller, and Hebrew school teacher. She is also the former Miss Jew-S-A. Check her out at arielspeedwagon.com.