USACBI condemns Hillary Clinton’s failed attempt to suppress BDS organizing in Scotland

USACBI (the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) condemns in the strongest terms the interference of Hillary Clinton and the US Department of State in a failed attempt to undermine a Scottish campaign to reject Israeli funding of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Through grassroots campaigning and the mobilization of artists, filmmakers and community activists, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and its allies caused the EIFF to reject Israeli Embassy sponsorship of the Festival in 2006 and 2009.

Clinton’s – and the State Department’s – attempt to use “top down and bottom up” pressure to undermine the work of grassroots organizers and artists in accord with the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions from apartheid Israel goes hand in hand with the billions of dollars in weaponry and funding provided by the U.S. government to the Israeli state each year.

As such, Clinton’s actions are unsurprising – the U.S. government is engaged in a strategic partnership with Israel that has brought death and destruction to the Palestinian people and the entire region for over 67 years. That being said, the active involvement of the US Secretary of State in attempting to undermine a grassroots cultural boycott campaign – and her failure to do so – clearly illustrate the necessity, strength and power of international BDS campaigns and cultural and academic boycott in exposing the reality of apartheid Israel and supporting the Palestinian struggle for justice, return and liberation.

The cultural boycott is growing – from Lauryn Hill to Sinead O’Connor, from Roger Waters to Thurston Moore, from Junot Diaz to Chuck D, a growing list of artists, musicians, performers and cultural workers are refusing to play any role in legitimizing or performing for apartheid.

As USACBI, we pledge to continue and escalate our campaigns to boycott and internationally isolate Israel, despite all efforts and threats by the Israeli state and its partner, the U.S. government, and to make it clear that as academics and cultural workers in the U.S., we stand with Palestine and its people and reject U.S. and Israeli imperial, colonial racism and oppression.


We recommend the following article, below, by Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Clinton’s attempt to suppress the Edinburgh boycott campaign. Today, the Scottish PSC notes that Ha’aretz has reported that Israeli state-sponsored groups are avoiding the Edinburgh Fringe Festival because of the growth and strength of cultural boycott work in Scotland.

The original article:

US State Department intervened to defeat grass-roots Scottish boycott effort…and failed

Mick Napier
9 August 2015

According to the front page headline in the Scotsman of Saturday 8 August 2015, Hillary Clinton weighed into Edinburgh film festival row, the court-mandated publication of her emails from 2009 reveal that the US Secretary of State worked from Washington to mobilise support against an SPSC boycott initiative, while Hollywood film makers were being asked to boycott the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and intimidate – ‘lean on’ – other film makers to do likewise.

The effort to get the EIFF to join the international boycott of Israel was one of a number of campaigns that have seen Israeli Government sponsorship moneys returned as part of protests against Israel’s massacres and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Such protests are part of a world-wide response to the call from Palestinian civil society for BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions against all institutions linked to the Israeli State until Israel recognises Palestinian human and national rights.

Hillary Clinton intervened after protests against Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead and a Scottish boycott campaign grew to the extent that, according to the Scotsman, “the pressure exerted by campaigners led to the festival returning the money to the Israeli Government”. The Israeli Embassy’s projection of ‘soft power’was successfully challenged though the US and UK Governments replenished Israel with the hard power to massacre Palestinians

Due to a quirk of US elite politics, a court has ordered the release of some of Clinton”s emails that reveal how the US Government intervened to defeat a modest Scottish boycott campaign. The content of Clinton”s emails, which were not intended for publication, is a vindication of the effort put into the BDS campaign in Scotland and beyond. The focussed work of BDS campaigners is producing a sense of panic in the ranks of some of our opponents such that the return of £300 (roughly what Clinton spends on a meal) to the Israeli Embassy generated panicked transatlantic efforts to try to force the EIFF to backtrack and accept Israeli Embassy money it had returned a week earlier.

It is crucial that the secret of our collective power remain concealed from us, and that most are persuaded most of the time that they are helpless victims of the rich and powerful, unable to challenge their crimes, impotent and weak against their armies, press, publishing houses and bought-and-sold elected representatives in a corrupt political system. That sense of powerlessness must be constantly drummed into the majority, the 99%, and part of that effort is concealing from us those occasions when our rulers are forced to work hard to defeat us, while keeping up the “swan” illusion – seemingly able to ignore and glide effortlessly above our impotent efforts, all the while under the surface they are paddling furiously to cope with strong currents, our grass-roots campaigning. Such knowledge is empowering, showing us that our rulers, those who arm the Israelis to crush the people of Palestine, who invade and devastate countries that pose no threat to us, can be challenged and defeated. (1)

Thanks to the publication of Clinton’s emails we now know that she wanted pro-Israel UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Scottish Government to pressure the EIFF to reverse its decision and accept the £300 sponsorship money from the Israeli Embassy.

Clinton was approached by Brian Greenspun of the Nevada-based Greenspun Media Group who forwarded her an article from a week earlier on the Edinburgh boycott success. The newspaper article had originally been emailed to Mr Greenspun by his brother-in-law Bruce Ramer, a Hollywood lawyer whose client list includes Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Ramer is also a former president of the Zionist-led American Jewish Committee.

The man the Hollywood Reporter categorised as one of its Power Lawyers 2012 wrote (24 May) to Greenspun, who had shared a room with Bill Clinton at college. This supporter of the recent Israeli massacre in Gaza splutters with ‘outrage’ at the boycott ‘abomination’ and demands the US Government exert pressure to neutralise the boycott success which, inevitably, he calls “anti-semitic”:

I hope you can enlist Hilary”s support (and please give her my personal best). We need, for many reasons, to have the US protest and condemn this outrageous boycott and to oppose the anti-Semitism inherent in it. The organisers of the festival must be convinced to reverse themselves….if it succeeds it will encourage and motivate those who fomented the boycott to other, probably even worse, action…This is truly appalling and serious.

The Hollywood ‘Power Lawyer’ replied to Greenspun that the return of the Israeli Embassy money was so “truly appalling and serious” that he “earnestly solicit[ed] your assistance with the Secretary”.

He also asked Hollywood film makers, including “Michael”, to boycott the Edinburgh International Film Festival and to bully other film makers into also pulling their films:

Dear Michael,
This is disgusting and outrageous. If you have any films in the festival or can lean on(2) anyone else who does, please get them withdrawn. We would not boycott the films of any other nation, even those we consider outlaws. Neither should they. And they should learn that boycotts beget boycotts.
Thanks for whatever help you can be.
Warmest regards. Bruce

Clinton responded the following day to promise that US Government pressure would be forthcoming but also asks her US correspondents to mobilise in London and Edinburgh to pressure the Scottish Government and Gordon Brown (who doesn’t need any pressure to sing the praises of apartheid Israel) in order to get them to intervene:

Thanks for the headsup on this. We are working to decide the most effective way forward, and I”ll keep you informed. We have some good ideas as to what our govt can do, but we also want to see pressure from local people brought on the British and Scottish govts. Can you and Bruce reach out to the community in London and Edinburgh to urge them to raise this w PM Brown and other govt officials? We”d like to see top down and bottom up pressure. Let me know what you think.

Clinton mobilised a number of her staff, including one Andrew J Shapiro who was a senior adviser to Clinton and would soon become US Government Assistant Secretary of State for Political-military affairs. The pro-Israel gang in the US must have been hitting the keyboards, for Clinton emailed her staff: “Pls read Brian”s message and all the email traffic below. What can we do about this? Let me know if you have ideas.” Her Deputy Chief of Staff mailed back that “We will confer in the morning and come up with a plan.” It’s not clear what kind of plan they came up with but it was singularly unsuccessful. The pressure that radiated out from Washington via the UK Government and “the community” to the EIFF had no visible effect.

In fact SPSC campaigns on cultural boycott in the Scottish capital have maintained an unbroken record of success in thwarting efforts by the Embassy of apartheid Israel to promote Brand Israel through sponsorships of cultural events in Scotland.

The Scottish Government said it had not pressurised the EIFF at all and a spokesman said: “Any decision on funding and other earned income is for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Their reasons for returning this money were well documented at the time.” The EIFF, on the other hand, refused to comment on whether they had come under pressure from the US government to reverse the boycott, which suggests that there was indeed pressure.

I can reveal, however, that the EIFF”s decision in 2009 to issue an unambiguous public statement came during a phone conversation I had with the EIFF Managing Director Ginnie Atkinson at 3.30pm on the afternoon of Friday 15 May. An evasive and platitudinous email from Ms Atkinson the day before had ended with the brusque and seemingly final “We will not enter in to further dialogue.”

The sequence of events is revealing, since this peremptory dismissalfollowed the wide circulation of an open letter from supporter of Palestine and renowned film-maker Ken Loach, as well as a flood ofpowerful and articulate letters to Ms Atkinson calling for the Embassy money to be returned. The EIFF seemed, however, to be determined to tough it out. (2)

SPSC accepted Ginnie Atkinson”s Thursday decision to end dialogue and issued a call for protests and shamings at every film showing during the 2009 EIFF, including a permanent presence outside one of the main venues.

The EIFF Managing Director called on Friday to enter into further dialogue to persuade us to call off the planned protests while they still held on to the £300 from the Israeli Embassy. We explained gently that we had committed to the Palestinian call for support in a time of Israeli massacre, i.e. boycott of Israel, and would be going into full campaigning mode over the weekend for an early start outside venues on the Monday. Spitting feathers, through gritted teeth, the EIFF finally issued that same afternoon a clear public statement that the money they had accepted from the Israeli Embassy was being returned. Victory.(3)

SPSC was successful in having Israeli Embassy sponsorship money returned in both 2006(4) and again in 2009 by the EIFF, and in early 2014 by the Stills Gallery. In addition, vigorous boycott campaigns have been successful in persuading Israeli Army musicians, the Jerusalem Quartet (2008) and Batsheva Dance Company (2012) not to return to Scotland and face inevitably stronger protests following Israel”s 2014 summer massacre of over 2,200 Palestinians. Two Israeli state-sponsored theatre groups were protested out of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 (and two others performed unimpeded since they were not sponsored by the apartheid state).

All of these efforts were multi-facetted, involved leafletting and letter writing efforts backed up by a readiness to carry the Palestinian call for active boycott onto the streets and into venues.

We are confident that an aroused popular anger at Israel’s criminality, if channelled and clear as to goals and methods, can withstand a campaign from the offices of the US Secretary of State. What could SPSC not achieve in solidarity with the injured and violated Palestinian people if we were ten times bigger and had a little bit of money? We are an entirely volunteer Campaign and run on the energy and commitment of all our members and supporters. Please support our work in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and against Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing and massacre.(5)

(1) A similarly felicitous revelation brought into the public domain a Scottish Government grant of in October 2010 of £200,000 to Israeli settler company Eden Springs explicitly to deal with a growing boycott campaign organised by SPSC that was “threatening the future of Eden Springs UK”. The Jerusalem Post repeatedly accused Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign of fabricating reports that Eden Springs had been damaged by the boycott, but a letter disclosed through Freedom of Information showed that Eden Springs “being targeted by the SPSC” had caused a “wave of protests and cancellations of contracts” that threatened its future across the UK.

(2) Conclusive proof that US Zionists mobilise their industrial and financial muscle to intimidate theatre managers and artists in this country. When the play Perdition by Jim Allen was withdrawn by the Royal Court Theatre immediately before its first night in January 1987, the widespread allegation that this was done under pressure from the USA were rejected.

(3) Sir Jeremy Isaacs, ex Chief Executive of Channel Four smeared the campaign to return Israeli Embassy money as “censorship”, a constant of all attacks on cultural boycott campaigns. Isaacs said he was “disgusted ” at this “denial of a film-maker’s right to show her work”. This despite Ken Loach expressing views shared with SPSC:

To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival”s taking money from the Israeli state.

Lord Janner of Braunstone, a Labour peer, former chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and now facing a trial for serial rape offences against children, also attacked the boycotters: “By banning the Israeli Embassy from supporting a film-maker the festival is helping to exclude Israelis from British cultural life, something that is clearly unfair.”

(4) We had the same resistance, and the same outcome, with the 2006 EIFF. Opposing the boycott call, the Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival Shane Danielson wrote to all those who complained that he had “almost had my bottom teeth knocked out with the butt” of an Israeli rifle recently in Occupied Palestine, but that he was eager to assist those Israeli filmakers who stood “above all the gunfire, and the shouting of thuggish soldiers.”

(5) More than the headlines around the world and in Israel about the EIFF re-joining the boycott, the letter from a group of 27 film-makers from across the Arab world was gratifying – SPSC received a message from them showing that the vile actions of the UK Government towards the Palestinian people had not closed off all doors to communication; BDS is the international language of solidarity. It keeps doors open our rulers are closing by their repeated aggressions and support for Israeli massacres.

Mick Napier

West Calder
08 August 2015

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