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.

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