Open Letter to Knowledge Network CEO: Join Cultural Boycott of Israel

The Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign sent the following letter to Rudy Buttignol, CEO of the Knowledge Network, in response to the network’s featured series of Israeli films, entitled “Who Am I.”

Rudy Buttignol
Knowledge Network
Burnaby, B.C.

November 8, 2012

Dear Mr. Buttignol,

Recently the Knowledge Network presented the series “Who Am I” featuring the work of 10 Israeli film makers. According to the website these films were purchased last May at the Co-Pro Israeli Documentary Screening Market which you have been attending since 1992.

In light of your support of the Co-Pro event, our Vancouver-based organization the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, is compelled to draw your attention to the following crucial facts:

  1. In 2004, after decades of occupation, unrelenting oppression and denial of fundamental rights, Palestinian civil society called on “people of conscience all over the world” to boycott  Israeli academic and cultural institutions. This campaign is a fundamental component of the wider campaign initiated in 2005 for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until that state:
    • Ends its occupation of all Arab lands and dismantles the wall
    • Recognizes the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
    • Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
  2. In 2009 in an open letter to international television executives and producers, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called particular attention to the Israeli Documentary Marketing Foundation (Co-Pro) and requested a comprehensive boycott of all aspects of the forum because:

    “Palestinian filmmakers and artists have widely condemned attempts to whitewash the crimes of the state of Israel through events such as the Forum. We understand that this event is organized by Documentary Marketing Foundation (CoPro) whose funders include the Israel Film Council, an official part of the Israel Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports.

    This event is organized and officially supported by the state to bring international attention and exposure to Israel documentary filmmakers and portray Israel as a place of great documentary film production. It is part of a larger “rebranding” Israel campaign to cover up and disguise the reality of Israel as a colonial and apartheid regime that has since its inception violated Palestinian rights and international law with great impunity. CoPro claims that it “maintains direct and persistent contacts with broadcasting organizations, funds and public councils, and strives to intensify the commitment to documentary filmmaking among elected representatives in the Israeli parliament (Knesset members) and government”. In 2005, CoPro was awarded the Knesset Chairman’s Prize for its work in promoting Israel in such a manner is, at best, an implicit endorsement of its persistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights. In the face of this grave brutality and wretched colonial oppression, filmmakers and artists should stand against  such injustice and work to oppose it – not sustain and whitewash it!”

  3. In May 2011, members of the Palestinian community, filmmakers and the Toronto-based Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid met with representatives from Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival regarding their official delegation to the Israeli CoPro Marketing event. CAIA informed Hot Docs of the importance of the international boycott, and encouraged them to support in solidarity with the people of Palestine and their struggle for freedom and justice. Fify-one filmmakers issued a statement of protest to Hot Docs stating: “as members of the film and arts community, we are deeply disappointed to learn that Hot Docs has decided to partner with the Israeli organization, CoPro  Documentary Marketing Foundation. Intentionally or not, this decision puts Hot Docs in direct support of the Israeli state and its ongoing violations of international law”. (Names of endorsers and a full text of the letter available in the appendix of this letter).Last spring, when a reciprocal Israeli delegation was invited to attend the Hot Docs festival, CAIA initiated another action and the following criticism: “As part of the global movement in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, we call on Hot Docs, to end its collaboration with Israeli-sponsored institutions. The festival’s celebration of this delegation as an achievement for the progressive arts and film community does not erase Israel’s ongoing violation of human rights and international law.”

The Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign (BIAC) is committed to promoting the global BDS movement. Until Israel fully complies with precepts of international law and meets the 2005 boycott objectives: ending the occupation, recognizing fundamental Palestinian rights, promoting UN resolution 194, the international community has a moral obligation to defend justice, equality and the rule of law; therefore we request that you support the boycott of Israeli cultural institutions and as president of a public television network, you do not participate in future CoPro Screening Markets.


Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign – Vancouver

Appendix (letter and endorsers of Hot Docs Board of Directors)

To the co-chairs of the board of directors of Hot Docs:
Toronto, 23 April, 2011

Dear Ms. Mirsky and Mr. McMahon:

As members of the film and arts community, we are deeply disappointed to learn that Hot Docs has decided to partner with the Israeli organization “CoPro Documentary Marketing Foundation”. Intentionally or not, this decision puts Hot Docs in direct support of the Israeli state and its ongoing violations of international law. By partnering with CoPro, Hot Docs is participating in “Brand Israel”, a state-funded campaign which deliberately pursues partners by creating venues that shift the focus from six decades of Israel’s deadly violations of international law to Israel’s achievements in medicine, science and culture.

As artists and filmmakers who actively support the call from Palestinian civil society for a non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s violations, we are disheartened and disturbed to see Hot Docs lending its endorsement to CoPro. In 2009, in the wake of Israel’s war on Gaza which left over 1400 Palestinians dead, hundreds of artists from around the world signed the Toronto Declaration to protest TIFF’s complicity in rebranding Israel through the “Spotlight on Tel Aviv” program. Must we now add Hot Docs to the list of cultural organizations whose complicity with the Israeli state puts them on the wrong side of history?

Given the general awareness of the cultural boycott of Israel and the rebranding campaign following TIFF in 2009, the current collaboration with Israeli State funded CoPro is particularly objectionable. It suggests, in fact, a more deliberate demonstration of support for Israel’s propaganda campaign than the 2005 Hot Docs Spotlight on Israel program which was also sponsored, directly in that case, by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This indicates a trend that makes a mockery of Hot Docs stated policy that it “cannot endorse or oppose any one political position or cause” and that “Hot Docs does not support sides – it supports documentary filmmakers”. Ultimately, this trend of promoting Israel puts progressive filmmakers and artists who support Hot Docs in an increasingly compromised position.

How can Hot Docs live up to its slogan “Outspoken. Outstanding” if it continues to collaborate with a government that endorses and institutes apartheid policies? Will Hot Docs be outspoken about its complicity with the Israeli state when artists around the world start questioning its actions? Answering the BDS call would be an outstanding decision. Contrary to popular misconception, this would not require sanctioning or excluding individual Israeli artists from the program. Rather, respecting the cultural boycott of Israel demands that organizations like Hot Docs refuse partnerships with institutions such as CoPro that are supported by the Israeli state.

It would mean standing in solidarity with Palestinian artists, virtually all of whom have signed the BDS call. It means saying No! To CoPro.

As artists committed to the freedom of Palestinians and to the preservation of Hot Docs, we are calling on Hot Docs, and their documentary filmmaker partners, to refuse collaboration with institutions, like CoPro, which are supported by the Israeli state. We are not calling for a boycott of Hot Docs. We are encouraging Hot Docs to find alternative ways of engaging both Palestinian and Israeli progressive forces, while bypassing the Israeli state, in a principled stand of cultural solidarity.

Endorsed by:

  1. Alberto Arce, Filmmaker
  2. David Cecchetto, Assistant Professor, OCAD University
  3. Janis Cole, Documentary filmmaker, film writer, media artist, Professor OCAD University
  4. Martin Duckworth, Filmmaker (Hot Docs:Winner of Best Film at 1996 Brush with Life, founding member of Montreal chapter of DOC’s precursor, CIFC)
  5. Sylvia Finzi, Sculptor and video artist, London/Berlin
  6. Richard Fung, Video artist, Associate Professor, OCAD University (Hot Docs: 2001, Sea in the Blood)
  7. Rebecca Garrett, Filmmaker
  8. Dina Georgis, Assistant Professor Women and Gender Studies Institute University of Toronto
  9. Amy Gottlieb, Video artist
  10. John Greyson, Filmmaker/video artist, Associate Professor, York University (Hot Docs: Fig Trees, Canadian Premiere, 09; International Jury, 09)
  11. Cathy Gulkin, Documentary film editor, DOC member
  12. Malcolm Guy, Director/Producer (Hot Docs: former President DOC-Québec; Turbulent Waters 2004 (co-directed with Michelle Smith), A Time of Love and War 2001 (as Producer); Canadian Spectrum Jury member 2001)
  13. Jens Hanssen, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History, University of Toronto
  14. Jamelie Hassan, Visual artist
  15. Mike Hoolboom, Artist
  16. Nora Hoppe, Filmmaker, Berlin
  17. Magnus Isacsson, Filmmaker (Hot Docs: Maxime McDuff & McDo (2003), The Choir Boys, (nominee. 2000), Power, (nominee 1997 ), The Big Upheaval, (nominee, 1996)
  18. Aminul Islam, Documentary filmmaker
  19. Ali Kazimi, Filmmaker, associate professor, York University (Hot Docs: Narmada; A Valley Rises, Best Political Film, Best Director, Special Mention for Best Film, 95; Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeffrey Thomas, Nominee, 98; Continuous Journey, Honourable Mention 04; juror, 96, 99, 04)
  20. Jason Lafolle, TV Video Producer and Independent Filmmaker
  21. Paul Lee, Filmmaker/film producer, programmer, Honolulu Palestine Film Festival
  22. Brenda Longfellow, Associate Professor, York University (Hot Docs: A Balkan Journey (1996), ShadowMaker (1998), Tina in Mexico (2002), Jury member ’03, ’01, ’00, ’99, ’98, ’95)
  23. Angela Martin, independent cultural producer, Lecturer (retired) Sheffield Hallam University, UK
  24. Tariq Marzbaan, Filmmaker, Berlin
  25. Alexis Mitchell, Media artist
  26. Michelle Mohabeer, Filmmaker, Writer, Teaching Faculty Member (Humanities-Culture & Expression) York University
  27. Jenny Morgan, Documentary film-maker, London
  28. Dorit Naaman, Israeli/Canadian videomaker and Associate Professor at Queen’s University
  29. Midi Onodera, Filmmaker
  30. Goran Hugo Olsson, Director, (Hot Docs: 2011 The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975)
  31. Maria Belen Ordonez, Assistant Professor, Anthropologist, OCAD University
  32. Vicky Moufawad-Paul, Filmmaker/curator/programmer
  33. Margo Pelletier, Filmmaker
  34. Lila Pine, New Media Artist, Professor, Ryerson University
  35. Jeanne Pope, Filmmaker (Hot Docs 2011 Dust, A Scultptor’s Journey)
  36. Clive Robertson, Media artist, contemporary art critic. Professor, Art History and Cultural Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston
  37. Annika Rogell, Producer (Hot Docs: 2011 The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975)
  38. Samah Sabawi, Writer and Playwright
  39. Jayce Salloum, Filmmaker/video artist
  40. John Sharkey, Programmer
  41. Susan Gold Smith, Artist, professor of visual art University of Windsor Ontario
  42. Robert H. Stiver, Editor and producer
  43. Larry Towell- Photographer/videographer
  44. Naomi Binder Wall, Filmmaker
  45. Tom Waugh, Professor, Concordia University
  46. Kathy Wazana, Filmmaker
  47. Paul Wong, Artist & Curator
  48. b.h. Yael, Filmmaker/video artist, Professor, OCAD University
  49. Hani Yared, Journalist Al Jazeera Network
  50. Dan Yon, Filmmaker, anthropologist, associate professor, York University
  51. Rachel Zolf, Writer, video artist/produce

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