Speech given by SSBDS at the Israeli Film Festival Protest, 21 August 2014

We should have been assembling a few blocks down the road outside the Verona cinema, so we could protest outside the cinema.

But now the police and the courts have banned us from doing that.

The court apparently doesn’t think the right to protest is important enough to justify the same traffic arrangements which would easily be made for a burst water-main or a broken-down bus.

This should be of real concern to everyone committed to political freedom in this country.

The right to free political expression is a cornerstone of a democratic society.

The decision to outlaw it is a step down a dangerous road, at the bottom of which looms a darkly blinking police-state.

Our demonstration was called to defend Palestinians’ right to justice and political freedom. In a far less acute way, we now find ourselves having to defend our own.

Some people might ask what the fuss is about, given that we’re demonstrating here now.

But let’s be clear about what the effect of the court decision has been: the state has sheltered the principal audience of our protest from our demands.

For the Israeli dignitaries who’ll be gracing the event with their presence, they’ve tried to make it like we’re not even there.

They’ve also succeeded in suppressing our numbers and in affirming that the police have the power to shut down public demos that it doesn’t like.

It’s now up to us to make sure that this attempt to silence us doesn’t succeed.

Attacks on fundamental freedoms don’t come with a sign saying “Danger: attack on civil liberties inside”.

Freedoms like the right to protest aren’t swept away in obvious full-frontal attacks – they’re eroded step by step, with each further one carefully cocooned in the reassuring idioms of legal rationality, administrative sobriety and respect for basic rights.

That’s exactly what we saw in the Supreme court this week. We condemn it, and condemn it unreservedly.

The court’s decision follows the banning of three Gaza protests in and around Paris last month.

It also comes in the context of tightening restrictions on the right to protest in Australia. Victoria and Tasmania have both recently introduced laws which substantially restrict protesters’ rights.

These are unacceptable – and again, it’s up to us to stop them. We should call on everyone who’s committed to political freedom in our society to join us in decrying the court’s decision.

But we can’t let this outrageous affront to democratic rights make us forget why we called this demonstration in the first place.

It’s easy to criticise calls to boycott a film festival. But let’s be clear why we’re here.

We are here to protest against official state-sponsored cultural festivals like this one, which use films to cloak the reality of Israel’s policy towards Palestine.

The Australia-Israel cultural exchange, which is backing the festival along with the Israeli embassy, was opened by Netanyahu in 2002 – the same Netanyahu who now has the blood of more than 2000 Palestinians on his murderous hands.

To our critics who ask us why we can’t leave cinema alone, we’ve got a question.

How many would-be Palestinian directors, actors and audiences have been slain by Israeli missiles? What prospect is there for a real film industry in a culture strangled by war and occupation?

So don’t lecture us about how film has the power to foster dialogue. You can’t have a dialogue when there’s a gun pointed at your head, or when there are IDF missiles trained on your houses and your family.

At the moment, the films that best advance the cause of justice for Palestine are the ones that Israel wants to ban, not the ones it wants to promote.

The film that’s being screened tonight is called “Self Made”. In the trailer, there’s a shot of the brutal separation wall that encloses Palestinians, like animals in a zoo.

On the wall’s clear surface, there’s been painted a large bunch of sunflowers, which the camera lingers over lovingly.

We know that that wall means deprivation, enclosure, and death. But for the film, it’s a canvas to paint with flowers.

For me that’s like an image for what Israel’s doing with film festivals like this one – it’s trying to hide the killing, by promoting works that it hopes will make us to forget about the bombs, the rubble, the oppression of an entire people.

The best thing we can do for peace in Israel-Palestine isn’t passively consume films like this, but actively boycott any festivals they’re in when these are funded by the Israeli state.

I’m speaking here on behalf of SSBDS, a group of staff at Sydney University who have been pressing the university to end its association with Israel.

Because what goes for cinema and culture also goes for academic research: there’s no freedom to study when your people is under siege and occupation.

Just as we call for the boycott of Israeli film festivals, we’re calling for Sydney University to boycott Israel’s academic institutions, which provide so much support for the occupation.

We need the BDS call to get stronger and stronger.

Because it isn’t sensitive and compassionate films, or high-level academic research that will bring justice to Palestinians, but a robust politics of public pressure. And that’s why we’re taking part in this demonstration today, just as we’ve taken part in every rally since the war in Gaza started.

It’s more and more clear to us, as it is to so many, that the international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel represents the most powerful mechanism Palestine has to bring about a just peace.

So let’s spread the boycott call, let’s demonstrate against official Israeli events like the film festival, with even greater energy than ever.

The police and the courts can try and ban us all they want, but they will never silence us. This is the right side of history. The calls for justice and peace for Palestine will not be stifled. Palestine will be free, and it’s ultimately our choice, in this international movement we belong to, how quickly that will happen.

Nick Riemer

Joint media release: Palestine protest going ahead on Thursday after court decision


A protest against the opening night of the Israeli Film Festival will be held at Taylor Square at 5.30pm on Thursday, despite today’s judgement in the Supreme Court of NSW.

Protest organisers have condemned the court for upholding NSW Police’s decision not to facilitate the protest, which was originally called outside the Palace Verona Cinema in Paddington, the cinema hosting the festival.

In handing down his decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s Justice Hidden stressed that the courts do not have the right either to ban or to authorize protests. All the court has done is remove the immunity from prosecution that participants would otherwise have if disruption to the road is caused. Nevertheless, today’s decision has effectively banned the protest from going ahead in the form the organisers had chosen.

“This has every appearance of a politically motivated bid to silence pro-Palestine activists,” said Nick Riemer from Sydney Staff for BDS, one of the coalition of groups organising the protest. “The court apparently doesn’t think the right to protest is important enough to justify the same traffic arrangements which would easily be made for a burst water-main or a broken-down bus. This should be of grave concern to everyone committed to political freedom in our society.”

“It’s striking that this decision follows the police’s earlier refusal to facilitate a march on the News Corp offices to protest against their deeply biased coverage of the war on Gaza,” added Damian Ridgwell, from the Palestine Action Group. “In 2012, the police also took us to court to try to prevent a march through the city to commemorate the Nakbah, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine during Israel’s foundation in 1948.”

“We are outraged at this denial of freedom of speech and assembly in relation to a crucial human rights issue – the rights of Palestinian people,” said Vivienne Porszolt from Jews against the Occupation. “Our purpose is entirely peaceful. Events such as the Israeli Film Festival are part of a “charm offensive” by the State of Israel to distract attention from its crimes against the Palestinian people.”

“It would be perfectly possible to divert traffic around the protest,” said Ophelia Haragli, from the Palestine Action Group. “The police even presented the court with a plan for how they would do this. By accepting the police’s argument against the demonstration the court has effectively declared weekday evenings protest-free. But the right to protest is a basic democratic freedom which we will not surrender.”

Today’s decision recalls the banning of a protest against the Gaza war in Paris last month. It comes in the context of tightening restrictions on the right to protest in Australia. Victoria and Tasmania have both recently introduced laws which restrict protesters’ rights. Legal representation for the Israeli Film Festival protest was provided by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

Organisers have decided that Thursday’s protest to draw attention to Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza will assemble at Taylor Square at 5.30pm. Israeli attacks have now killed over 2000 Palestinians, including a woman and a child in one attack on Gaza City late on Tuesday.

For further information, contact:

Nick Riemer (Sydney Staff for BDS) 0481 339 937

Vivienne Porszolt (Jews against the Occupation) 0411 366 295

Ophelia Haragli (Palestine Action Group) 0410 782 263

Damian Ridgwell (Palestine Action Group) 0408 369 182


Joint press release on the Israeli Film Festival boycott and attempted police ban


Human rights supporters continue their call for a boycott of the Israeli Film festival, despite NSW Police seeking to ban the protest planned for the opening night of the event on Thursday 21 August at the Palace Verona Cinema in Oxford St, Paddington.

Despite the notification being lodged with police within the stipulated time frame last Thursday 14 August, police lawyers sought an adjournment today, Monday August 18, in the Supreme Court of NSW to enable them to prepare documentation. This was granted till Tuesday 19 August.

In the wake of the latest horrific attack on Gaza and the death of some 2,000 Palestinians (many of them civilians and children), a coalition of Australian groups seeking justice for Palestinians have called on the Palace cinemas to end their support for the Israeli Film Festival. The film festival is sponsored by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) – a body supported by the Israeli government and sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Australia.

“AICE’s activities, including this film festival, are part of a deliberate public relations strategy by the Israeli government and its supporters to present Israel in a favourable light and to disguise its oppressions of Palestinians and theft of their land,” said Vivienne Porszolt, from Jews against the Occupation Sydney, one of the groups organising Thursday’s protest.

“Over 1000 people have signed a petition calling on Palace cinemas to cease their association with this Festival, which is directly linked to and funded by the Israeli government via their Embassy here. As such, it is a vehicle used to whitewash the crimes that this government is responsible for,” added Ophelia Haragli, another protest organiser, from the Sydney Palestine Action Group.

“In line with the call from Palestinian civil society for a global cultural, academic and economic boycott of Israel, Australians are increasingly supporting the BDS strategy as a lawful, non-violent and effective strategy that people of the world can use to defend Palestinian rights,” said Nick Riemer from Sydney Staff for BDS, a University of Sydney staff group that promotes the boycott of Israel and is helping organise the protest.

Organisers are planning a peaceful and lawful demonstration on Thursday evening. They condemn the police’s effort to deny their freedom of assembly and expression.

Organisers have stressed that the protest is against an activity sponsored by the Israeli government and local supporters. It is in no way against Jews or Israelis as such.

“Where Western governments, especially the US and our own government in Australia have totally failed to hold Israel to account, indeed have supported their defiance of international law, civil society is obliged to act,” said Damian Ridgwell from Palestine Action Group.

Link to petition: http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/palace-cinemas-take-a-stand-for-gaza-and-for-palestinians-boycott-the-israeli-film-festival-and-demand-that-palace-cinemas-withdraw-sponsorship-of-the-israeli-film-festival

For further information, contact:

Vivienne Porszolt (Jews against the Occupation) 0411 366 295

Ophelia Haragli (Palestine Action Group) 0410 782 263

Nick Riemer (Sydney Staff for BDS) 0481 339 937

Damian Ridgwell (Palestine Action Group) 0408 369 182