Pink-sponge protesters take aim at Israeli documentary

Thursday, June 28, 2012 | by

Protesters interrupted the introduction of an Israeli documentary about gay Palestinians, with the film’s director then making an impassioned plea on behalf of the Jewish state.

The incident occurred June 23 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater before the screening of “The Invisible Men,” which explores the plight of gay Palestinian men who seek refuge illegally in Israel. The screening was part of Frameline36, the Bay Area’s annual LGBT film festival, which ran June 14-24.

Just before the screening, K.C. Price, the festival’s executive director, went to the front of the theater to introduce the film and its director, Yariz Mozer. As if on cue, a dozen protesters sitting in the front row rose to vocally condemn the festival for showing a film funded by the Israeli government.

A scene from “The Invisible Men,” which screened  in San Francisco on June 23   photo/shahar reznik
A scene from “The Invisible Men,” which screened in San Francisco on June 23 photo/shahar reznik
The screening was co-sponsored by the LGBT Alliance of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the consulate general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest. The 69-minute film won a juried award as the festival’s outstanding documentary.

The protesters’ thinking, said Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, a Jewish LGBT organization based in San Francisco, is that “any involvement of the Israeli government is traif. It doesn’t make a difference what the movie is about or what the director has to say.  Any organization that accepts funding from the Israeli government is a target. It’s theater of the absurd.”

Slepian, who was in attendance, said the protesters shouted and handed out pink sponges, symbolic of “pinkwashing” (a strategy that critics say Israel uses to play up its positive track record on LGBT rights and other progressive issues in order to distract attention from its conflict with Palestinians). After five minutes of making their message known, most of the protesters left the theater without seeing the film.

Price then introduced Mozer, who spoke to the capacity crowd.

Recalled Slepian: “When [Mozer] tried to say something counter to the protest, someone in the audience spoke up and said, ‘That wasn’t aimed at you.’ He very forcefully replied ‘Yes it was. My film was partially funded by the Israeli government, my visit here was funded by the Israeli government. I am a leftist and I oppose many of the policies of my government, but I am proud to be an Israeli, and calls for boycott are wrong.’ ”

Price told j. this was not the first time Frameline has been targeted by anti-Israel groups. “In the past two years, the protests were more staged outside the Castro Theatre on opening night,” he said.

Price added that to the best of his knowledge, Frameline protesters have never spoken out against any other country besides Israel.

Slepian said Price and other festival officials handled the incident well.

“Nobody tried to cut the protesters off, nobody asked them to leave,” he said. “Both the movie and the director got much louder rounds of applause. It says something positive about Israel that they are willing to send over a film and a director that highlights this important issue — [a film] that is in many ways critical of Israel.”

The film is about three gay men who, threatened with violence and perhaps even death in their own society, flee the Palestinian territories for Tel Aviv. But while Tel Aviv is considered LGBT friendly, it presents the gay Palestinians a whole new set of challenges in terms of getting by and living legally.