‘Drop the Film Fest’ protest exposes Israeli Apartheid in Chicago
Last week, twenty protesters gathered outside the Music Box Theatre on Chicago’s Northside to protest the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC) and to support the international call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
The “Drop The Film Fest” protest was organized by a coalition of members from different organizations, including For the People Artists Collective, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Chicago, Al Mirsa Collective, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Friends Service Committee (Chicago) and Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites.
The protest was in response to the 11th Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, an event which festival organizers said is to “nurture an appreciation of Israeli culture in the Chicago metropolitan area.”
However a statement released by protest organizers said that the festival serves to whitewash Israeli apartheid and is part of an ongoing effort by the Israeli Ministry of Culture to project a false image of Israel as a friendly, progressive haven for artists from around the world.
The statement also spoke about how protesters had successfully stopped the Center on Halsted from continuing to pinkwash the occupation of Palestine after LGBTQ activists, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim community members, alongside allies, met with then-director Tico de Valle in response to CFIC sponsored LGBT night at the Center. Since then, the Center on Halsted has not hosted the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.
While outside the Music Box Theatre, protesters were met with intimidation by a large police presence and then harassment from moviegoers and film festival organizers, who accused the protesters of lying about the occupation of Palestine. However, this did not stop protesters from chanting, singing, and passing out fliers telling people passing by to boycott the CFIC.
The flier connected the “Drop The Film Fest” protest to the repression of Palestinian artists by the Israeli state. In particular, it highlighted the stories of Samar Qupty and Dareen Tartour, describing how Qupty was interrogated and strip searched by Israeli authorities on her way to a film festival abroad and how Tartour was imprisoned for posting poems on Facebook.
The Music Box Theatre responded by releasing a statement on “Drop The Film Fest” Facebook page.
“The Music Box Theatre is not responsible for any of the films programmed at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema,” the statement read.
The statement added that the Music Box Theatre was only renting the space out to the CFIC and defended this action by pointing out it had hosted a Palestinian film—The Idol—and was open to film suggestions from conference organizers.
“The Music Box is treating this as if it is a ‘two sided’ situation, where both Palestinians and Israelis are equally ‘at fault,’” Debbie Southorn, one of the protest organizers, said. “It ignores the power relationship whereby Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian life from freedom of movement to freedom of speech, and how this impacts Palestinian’s ability not only to make art but also to live life every day. Palestinians do not exert this kind of control over Israeli artists or people.”