Danny Glover, William Ayers, rapper Invincible, as well as others involved in the making of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” recently issued a statement which called for the film to be withdrawn from the annual documentary film festival DocAviv, in Tel Aviv, in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS). The statement read, “We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and support their call for cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”
To their shame, boycott proponents are segregating audiences into two groups — the rest of the world and Israelis.
BDS attempts to delegitimize Israel based on misinformation, including false accusations that it is an apartheid state that denies its citizens civil rights and engages in discrimination and segregation.
Expressing support for BDS, in combination with simultaneously urging that the film be made available in Palestine, not only fosters misinformation about Israel but promotes discrimination and undermines the possibility of social change, the legacy of the subject herself. It would appear Glover and companions fail to see this irony.
DocAviv Festival in Tel Aviv is an international competition that presents innovative and compelling documentaries to a broad audience and facilitates professional networking as well as audience interaction. The protest issued on May 12 was too late to effect the scheduled screening on May 13 and 15. “The festival organizers and film producers informed us that [withdrawing the film] was not possible and they would move forward with the screening, over our objections,” said the boycott proponents.
That the DocAviv Festival chose to screen a film that champions the life and work of an Israel detractor is itself a sign of Israel’s flourishing pluralistic society — and it completely undermines the baseless accusations of the boycott movement. The attempts by Glover and companions to compare Israel to the Jim Crow South are emotionally manipulative and completely unfounded. Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East. It affords equal rights to all of its citizens, has never practiced racial segregation of any kind, and consistently works to encourage and enable Arab integration in every area of life. All of its citizens, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, or religion, share the same restaurants, water fountains, hospitals, grocery stores, beaches, restrooms, and more. They freely engage in dialogue, express views without restraint, serve in the military, practice their religions, and choose their fashions, partners, and politics. Further, Arabs and women have always served in key roles of government in Israel, which currently boasts 12 democratically elected Arab members of the Knesset. The great Martin Luther King, Jr., accurately described Israel as “one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”
As a self-described feminist, Boggs, the film’s star, should be pleased to note that Golda Meir, Israel’s first prime minister, was one of the world’s most respected democratically elected female leaders. Additionally, in the ethnically and racially diverse Israel, beauty comes in many colors. The recently crowned Miss Israel was born in Ethiopia and, in response to a judge’s question, had this to say, “There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it’s important to show that to the world.”
Art is often the means through which ideas are communicated and change is born. While this concept appears to have been understood by the producer-director who entered the film into the festival, it sadly appears to have been lost on Glover and company. Boggs, who is described by herself and others as a devoted activist committed to civil rights, should in fact be championing this exhibition. Clearly, she and the other signatories believe Israel is in need of social change, but they illogically wish to deny those they deem most in need of that change the benefit of receiving their message.
The hallmark of the civil rights movement was the fight against discrimination and segregation, and, yet Glover, Invincible, Boggs, and others who support the BDS campaign are singling out Israelis for discrimination solely based on nationality. Unethical on its face, it paints all Israelis with a single brush, ignoring the fact that the country has a diverse population, including nearly 1.7 million Arab citizens (20% of the population) who would also be denied the opportunity to experience this film.
Art is unique in its universality, in its ability to touch people from different parts of the planet in similar ways. It has the power to remind us of what we have in common, to make a difference, and to promote peace. It should not be denied to anyone.