Major Bay Area arts org worked closely with Israeli consul general to counter protests

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
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Akiva Tor
Israeli consul general Akiva Tor wrote a letter to the editor for American Jews to sign

Here is a fascinating look inside the front lines of the Israel lobby. 

According to leaked emails, a major Bay Area arts organization worked behind the scenes with the Israeli consulate and the Jewish Federation to counter protests of Israeli films over the last two years.

The emails involve Frameline, a 35-year-old LGBT film festival that has become an institution in the Bay Area. Frameline has often shown Israeli films, and accepted sponsorship from the Israeli Consulate–and as a result it has faced boycott calls and protests in recent years.

The emails show that at a time when Frameline’s executive director K.C. Price was telling the press he was “nonpartisan,” he was urging Israeli consul general Akiva Tor as well as officials at the Jewish Federation to take action against the protests. 

Price was also trying to get the Municipal Transportation Agency to censor ads critical of the festival. And he was sharing his thoughts about which Israeli movies he was planning to screen, with an Israel lobbyist– months before those film decisions were announced.

And meantime Akiva Tor was writing up a letter for American Jews to send to newspaper editors as their own work!

“These people are totally colluding while pretending they’re neutral,” the anonymous person who sent me the report containing the emails says of Frameline.

The odd twist in this story is that the Jewish Federation itself helped to publish the emails, in order to brag on them! Lisa Finkelstein, an LGBT advocate who formerly worked at the Federations and now works for the New Israel Fund, prepared an internal report on how to counter boycott threats, using the Frameline case as a successful case in point.

The report was shared earlier this year with other Israel lobbyists, and before long was shared with Palestinian solidarity activists, which is how I got it.

The report is at the bottom of this post. It is titled “Community Action: Responding Collectively to Ongoing Threats of Community Identity” — as if criticism of Israel is a threat to American Jewish identity.

Here are the highlights of emails, from pages 12-17.

June 2010.

During the 34th annual festival, Lisa Finkelstein, director of the LGBT alliance of the Jewish Federations, writes to another pro-Israel activist, Al Baum:

I spoke with many of the Frameline organizers last night – including KC [Price]. They were very stressed about the folks making a scene outside the theatre. They felt very supported by each of us reaching out to them.

Price was particularly angered by a bus shelter ad saying the festival was guilty of pinkwashing– using Israel’s good record on gay rights to immunize itself from human rights violations against Palestinians.

Price sent an email to Donny Inbar, an official at the “Israel Center” of the Jewish Community Federation:

Hi Donny, As promised, here is the photo I took of the one in front of the Diesel store. It’s so outrageous. Also, right after we talked, I spoke to John Haley from SF MTA (Bevan Dufty had him call me) and he’s trying to get them taken down right now. Let’s talk tomorrow…Best, K.C.

Frameline bus shelter
Frameline bus shelter

Inbar promptly sent the photo on to several colleagues, including Consul General Akiva Tor:

 Dear friends, Please have a look at the truly disturbing new QUIT [Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism] poster & let’s talk over the phone 1st thing in the morning about the way we prepare for/react to the planned QUIT protest at the Frameline opening on Thursday. Best, Donny

February 2011

In February 2011, the Bay Area Reporter stunned members of the pro-Israel community with a letter from QUIT titled “Questioning Frameline on Israeli Support” sharply criticizing the cooperation of Frameline and the Israeli government months before the 35th annual festival.

Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor writes to Arthur Slepian, director of a group that builds connections between Israel and the LGBT community, on the importance of writing letters. Tor says he has been in touch with Frameline. And you will see that Tor actually writes a letter for others to sign (its text was not included):

Arthur – I think your letter is excellent. I prepared an additional text which takes on the boycotters a bit more stridently. It might be good if it arrived at BAR [Bay Area Reporter] as an additional letter from someone else – perhaps JCRC or Israel Center. In any case – we should definitely respond in full force. I spoke to Frameline yesterday – they are annoyed by the attack on them and expect a very strong Jewish community response…

March 2011.

From K.C. Price, director of the festival, to Donny Inbar of the Jewish Federations. Notice he is consulting Inbar about film choices long before the selections will be made public:

[A pro-Israeli films] editorial [appearing in the Bay Area Reporter] was amazing. As far as potential Israeli films that we are looking into for the festival, here is a summary of what we’re working on: We’ve viewed THAT’S GILA and saw LIPSTIKA in Berlin, and we are not going to invite those two films. We did extend an invitation to EytanFo x’s television show MARY LU to participate in the Festival. However, we just found out on Friday that Frameline won’tbe able to show it because they are going with a big screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and they don’t want to do another screening with Frameline. Oh well. Have you seen the musical? It’s really entertaining. We do haveone more invitation for an Israeli film that is out right now, and I’m waiting on an answer — it’s for Tomer Heymann’s new documentary. I hope to here back on that in the next few days and will let you know.

Inbar responded with his own advice, including an offer to speak to Heymann, “an old friend.” Heymann’s film was chosen for the festival, as was another Israeli film.

K.C. Price did not respond to a request for comment. Another person named in the emails told me that the cooperation of various organizations is what “intelligent, responsible people do” when threats like this occur.

Here’s the report:

Israeli Government and Frame Line

P.S. Last fall Sarah Schulman nailed Pinkwashing on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times: “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

She spoke of an international campaign to launder Israel’s image by citing gay freedoms there. This internal report supplies dramatic proof of Schulman’s thesis.

9 Responses

  1. DICKERSON3870
    April 16, 2012, 4:39 pm

    RE: “…a major Bay Area arts organization worked behind the scenes with the Israeli consulate and the Jewish Federation to counter protests of Israeli films over the last two years. The emails involve Frameline, a 35-year-old LGBT film festival…” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: I wonder if the films included any made by gay porn kingpin Michael Lucas.
    SEE: Nakba porn kingpin Michael Lucas bullies LGBT center against Anti-Apartheid Party, by Max Blumenthal, Mondoweiss, 2/24/11
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net

  2. Annie Robbins
    April 16, 2012, 4:49 pm

    this is a really important post for a number of reasons. first off, as far as we are concerned san francisco leads the country in gay activism and always has. it completely embedded in the politics of the city and as a force they are a very strong force in san francisco. like no other i can think of off the top of my head.

    this issue and awareness spreading thru that community could have lasting effects. it’s a battleground all right and the government of israel has weaseled their way right into the heart of it.

  3. Phan Nguyen
    April 16, 2012, 4:55 pm

    Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor has his paws in everything in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest. Just in the last couple of years, he has done the following (that we know of):

    1. Claimed on Seattle conservative talk radio that he wanted to protect Olympia, Washington, from foreign influence.

    2. Then met in Olympia, Washington, with StandWithUs and future plaintiffs in the Olympia Food Co-op lawsuit, plus their lawyer, to discuss suing the co-op and filing a civil rights complaint against The Evergreen State College—and lying about it later that evening.

    3. Fought against divestment at UC Berkeley, both behind the scenes and in public. (Tor’s office had also been involved behind the scenes against The Evergreen State College divestment call and the Olympia Food Co-op boycott at the start of both initiatives.)

    4. Dispatched his second-in-command, Gideon Lustig, to Port Townsend in order to quash the food co-op BDS proposal there.

    5. Tried to act as a government minder to Ilan Pappe, seeking to speak alongside Pappe in Seattle.

    And now this story comes to light.

    • Les
      April 16, 2012, 6:27 pm

      If Akiva Tor is an American who has obtained Israel citizenship without renouncing his US citizenship, this is a more serious issue than being an Israeli agent who betrays the interests of the US.

  4. Chaos4700
    April 16, 2012, 10:06 pm

    Well OF COURSE an organization in the United States answers to the Israeli government. Right?

  5. Matthew Graber
    April 17, 2012, 2:33 am

    In a completely unrelated matter, at the top of sponsors of the Equality Forum is the Comcast Corporation. How much do we have to wonder as to whether David Cohen convinced Malcolm Lazin to have Israel as the “featured nation”? And what collaboration does the Equality Forum have the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Israeli Embassy in Washington?

    Also, Annie, though San Francisco and New York have been prominent in the US LGBTQ cultural scene, let us not forget Philadelphia and the role that ACT UP played in securing rights to treatments for HIV+ individuals at a time when the LGBTQ community was decimated by AIDS.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 17, 2012, 3:13 am

      absolutely Matthew and thanks for bringing that up. i purposely prefaced that with “as far as we are concerned”, meaning many san franciscans think that way about our city (gay and straight alike of course), the way we self identify. the harvy milk/mayor moscone massacre really solidified the people in a way it is hard to describe. more importantly, people of my generation lost so many loved ones here, it’s hard going a day without thinking about…them. we’re such a small city it really affected everyone, our losses. your framing of decimate,it was personally decimating. i don’t know if we do actually lead in gay rights activism and the movement has grown so much (thank goodness). it’s really beautiful in my lifetime how much it’s grown. anyway, sorry i probably worded that wrong earlier.

  6. seafoid
    April 17, 2012, 9:25 am

    The problem with Zionism is that it takes up too many evenings.
    It’s too much work to keep the lies going.

    i think there’s massive potential for Palestinians to ally with the GLBT community.

    link to vimeo.com

    Bastards and bigots everywhere target

    Women
    Religious minorities
    Ethnic minorities
    The GLBT community

    And it is amongst these groups that potential support for the Palestinians should be highest.

  7. adele
    April 17, 2012, 5:18 pm

    I fervently hope that this expose:

    1) gets reported on by newspapers so that more people in the Bay Area are aware of this collusion.
    2) and that filmmakers boycott this film festival until K.C. Price is removed as director.

    One thing I am certain of is that Frameline can expect further protests given this egregious behavior that has come to light!

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