Tali Shalom-Ezer won’t do Ken Loach’s work for him

The Edinburgh International Film Festival succumbed to pressure from Palm D’Or winner and RESPECT national council member Ken Loach to return, as filthy lucre, the small sum of £300 donated by the Israeli Embassy for the travel expenses of film director Tali Shalom Ezer. Under the auspices of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ken Loach also demanded that audiences boycott her film, Surrogate* the festival. This is the kind of irrelevance which so often passes for pro-Palestinian activism these days.

Loach’s insistence that “We all know” that the individual herself is welcome seems like a strange mind game. Imagine you were presenting at an event and a celebrity-led campaign for your work to be boycotted* to demonise your country and prevent it from supporting you went unopposed by the organisers – would you feel welcome? Only if you were a masochist.

The film is a romance set in a sex therapy centre. Although the EIFF decided to put up the money itself, it gave credence to Ken Loach on his weakest subject, Israel. Ken Loach says he finds the rise in antisemitic attacks on Jews in Europe “understandable” and believes that most Jews, because they support the existence of Israel, are responsible for these:

“Nothing has been a greater instigator of anti-Semitism than the self-proclaimed Jewish state itself. Until we deal with that, until that is acknowledged, then racism, I’m afraid, will be with us.”

If the acts of a Jewish state are accepted as a license for antisemitism against Jews in general, and if this phenomenon is regarded as understandable by campaigning anti-Zionist bystanders, then they defeat their own argument that there is no need for a Jewish state. That’s even before you go looking for evidence that these moral beacons care equally about atrocities whether perpetrated by Sri Lankans, Sudanese, or Congolese – and find none.

Tali Shalom Ezer points out that Loach is attempting, in an act which bears comparison to political censorship, to pull art within his orbit of protest against Israel:

“He has created a situation in which going to see Surrogate means supporting the state of Israel. He has made this connection.”

It’s been a long time since anybody wanted to censor Ken Loach, but as Jeremy Isaacs points out, there was once a time when he cared about this kind of thing.

The EIFF organisers are sorry in unspecified ways. Their policy had hitherto been to avoid such “dangerous precedents” as refusing money from one or another country; now they have singled Israel out as their only pariah as if it were the worst state in the world.

Shalom Ezer originally said she would not attend EIFF. This is called self-boycott, and is practised by individuals who feel unwelcome, unwanted, singled out for political tests or particular scrutiny, and obliged to run gauntlets. In South Africa, where the academic, cultural and sporting boycott played only an illusary role in overthrowing apartheid, Haricombe and Lancaster found that academics who were not the stated target of a boycott were nevertheless driven away:

“Some of the affected respondents had encountered the boycott more directly. 16.4% had experienced the refusal of international scholars to collaborate with them. The largest proportion attributed this to pressure from the prospective collaborator’s professional or institutional peers, but refusal was also made on the grounds of moral support for the boycott. 49% had had to overcome problems with access to textbooks and/or periodicals. 25.9% had been denied conference participation or had experienced boycott action during the conference, such as denial of attendance at the official banquet or opening ceremonies, last-minute downgrading of presentations, and in its most extreme form, demonstrations or staged walk-outs prior to their presentation.

The anxiety and even fear this engendered in South African academics had a powerfully isolating effect on the individuals affected, one response to which was self-boycott. Haricombe and Lancaster define self-boycott as “the adoption of a self-imposed restriction by an individual to prevent/circumvent a penalty that would otherwise be imposed from elsewhere” (p96). Several interviewees had stopped attempting to participate in international conferences in order to avoid embarrassment.

The phenomenon of self-boycott emerged strongly, but it had not been explicitly anticipated in the questionnaire and the authors think that it was probably under-identified. Self-boycott is attributed to knowledge about boycott practice gleaned from personal experience or experience of colleagues, knowledge about the boycott policy of the country, institution or sponsoring agency, and expectation of rejection on the basis of nationality or residency. One respondent said “I don’t know what sort of response I’ll get because they … are the most anti-apartheid group … they just ignore you” and “we knew we did not have a chance” (p87). Another gave the following account (p72):

“I had problems… I could have gone on a British passport but I refused on principle to go. I’ve been in jail for my beliefs… I feel very strongly about not be allowed to go because I was in South Africa.”

This suggests that some anti-racist academics decided to self-boycott rather than avail themselves of opportunities to participate such as the selective support of the UDUSA [the then arbiter you get the impression that PACBI and BRICUP would like to be].”

It is very obvious that boycotters have no problem with this.

Filmstalker comments:

“Loach’s comments can’t help but be against the film-maker, the film, and their nationality, and there is no way he can support them and their film, and yet tell audiences to stay away from it. Frankly I don’t understand how he expects that to work.”

And academic boycotters in my union and beyond fuss and bluster and insist that their boycott is not at all a boycott of individuals, as if it had nothing whatsoever to do with the effects on people like Tali Shalom Ezer, and as if UCU had never circulated the PACBI call which led to these measures against individuals, or supported the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with its track record of antisemitism.

However to Shalom Ezer’s great credit she will attend the EIFF. By resolving not to self-boycott, she will deny Ken Loach and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign the inadvertant benefit of doing their work for them. Good for her.

Update 26 May: Open letters from Shalom-Ezer to Loach, and from Loach to Shalom-Ezer. Shalom-Ezer pleads with Loach to recognise that boycott helps Israel’s worst elements.

I oppose, with all my heart, the Israeli occupation and settelments; I oppose an automatic resort to military solutions in times of conflict. I appreciate the wish to change the world by shunning what is perceived as an act of injustice, but I feel that what may seem right in theory, may be extremely wrong in practice.

In my opinion, every time a nation is subjected to a cultural boycott – be it a film or a lecture by an Israeli professor abroad – there is a tendency amongst its subjects to draw closer to more nationalistic elements; every time this happens, peace is farther away. Every time this happens, the concept of “A People that Dwells Alone” gathers more believers, and the conviction that the only way to survive is by strengthening the state’s military power, is reinforced. Every time this happens, moderate voices are hushed, art is weakened.

I do not know if you are aware of this fact, but Surrogate was filmed by Radek Ladczuk, a talented Polish cinematographer. For 21 years, Israel and Poland had no diplomatic relations; all I knew about the country came from the media and history lessons about WWII.

I approached Radek from purely artistic considerations. Our work, despite difficulties in verbal communication, has proven to me once more the power of art and the many points of similarity which join people together, everywhere. I have no doubt that collaborations of this kind promote dialogue and lessen prejudice.

Loach’s response is generally wrong and weirdly breezy.  From the end:

“Those who have attacked the boycott here are the usual suspects, old hacks and right wing extremists. One thought you were a man. They would embarrass you.

Please stand with the oppressed against the oppressor. I hope you enjoy the Festival.”

It’s clear who is being directly oppressed in this instance: Tali.


*Regarding the strike-throughs, prompted by Alec in the comments below I went looking for horse’s mouth evidence that Loach was calling for a boycott of Surrogate and found none. What Loach did was call on the world to boycott the whole film festival because Israel tried to assist a young director to attend. He conveniently passed over his party’s double-speak that “the State” of Israel should not be “invited to any kind of cultural week”, a view echoed by organisations which frequently aggess individual Israelis. As far as I know “the State” was not invited – Tali Shalom Ezer was.

24 Responses to “Tali Shalom-Ezer won’t do Ken Loach’s work for him”

  1. zkharya Says:

    Loach has shot himself in the foot, I think. Now EIFF is footing the bill, not the Israeli government.

  2. Jacob Says:

    “Nothing has been a greater instigator of anti-Semitism than the self-proclaimed Jewish state itself. Until we deal with that, until that is acknowledged, then racism, I’m afraid, will be with us.”

    This is an echo of the age old blaming the Jews for Jew hatred.

    It reformulates Marx’s “The _social_ emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”

    Which unsprisingly is posted on an Islamicist website:


    Substitute Israel for Judaism (or vice versa) and the meaning is clear.

    It also reminds me of the way Ezra Pound and others used to say that Jewish Capitalists were the cause of antisemitism.

    It is clear that antisemites always blame Jews for their own hatred of Jews.

  3. zkharya Says:

    I wonder how many other ethno-national groups Loach holds responsible for racism against them?

  4. We Are All Tali Shalom Ezer. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] 3: Engage has typically intelligent coverage. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Edinburgh Film Festival Snubs Israeli GrantIndie […]

  5. karen Says:

    It is interesting what you say here. I just read a very interesting discussion about it on Pandalous:


    but your point about self censorship was not made there. They make many significant points though, and I’m sure they would be interested in hearing yours.

  6. Alec aka Efrafan Days Says:

    Hi Mira et al., thank you for the ping-back.

    In shameless self-publicity, as can be seen [1], an old friend of Engage Online was behind the initial attempts to intimidate the EIFF. To Ginnie Atkinson’s credit, she rebuked this antisemite (this is great, we can say that!). Alas, at this point Loach stepped in to speak for the film making ‘community’ and the EIFF capitulated quicker than John Wight does when he’s asked about CODOH.

    I ain’t without sympathy for the EIFF – certainly more than the Writing on the Wall Festival, self-publicize self-publicize [2] – as I know, from personal experience, what dealing with the SPSC and Wight can be like. Even though, however, they appear to be digging into their own pockets to bring Shalom-Ezer over, any boost to Loach’s actions is idiotic and I hope they publicize their second change-of-heart. This is proving as big a coup for the SPSC as when they tried to break up the Jerusalem Quartet last year, methinks.

    I don’t like Loach’s films for stylistic reasons, and don’t take my political cues from ‘artists’: fortunately, I’m no fan of Wagner, but think Orff and Liszt are fantastic. Does anyone have a source for the claim he’s calling for a boycott of Surrogate itself? If so, that would definitely raise questions in my mind if his output can be separated from his wretched politics.

    [1] http://efrafandays.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/john-wight-man-of-violence/

    [2] http://efrafandays.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/jonathan-hoffman-is-revolting/

  7. Mira Vogel Says:

    Hi Alec, as I added to the piece above: “I went looking for horse’s mouth evidence that Loach was calling for a boycott of Surrogate and found none. What Loach did was call on the world to boycott the whole film festival because Israel tried to assist a young director to attend. He conveniently passed over his party’s double-speak that “the State” of Israel should not be “invited to any kind of cultural week”, a view echoed by organisations which frequently aggess individual Israelis. As far as I know “the State” was not invited – Tali Shalom Ezer was.”

    Thanks for the prompt.

  8. Saul Says:

    Yes Jacob,
    One can trace the entire discourse of antizionism and antisemitism back to a single quote from Marx over 160 years ago written in the context of a demand for Jewish emancipation made against a contemporary antisemite. You can even assimilate it with the thought of an English antisemitic fascist writing ninety years later.

    As Arendt complained, the problem with many Jews is that they often could not tell the difference between their friends and their enemies. Good to know you’re keeping the tradition alive.

    Now, if we could get back to the matter in hand………….

  9. Davenport Says:

    I suppose what hasn’t really been discussed is how festivals will deal with consideration of Israeli films in the future. By its own reasoning, the Edinburgh Film Festival did not realize quite what a mess it was getting itself into. It would stand to reason that there may now be a silent boycott of Israeli filmmakers simply by virtue of their inclusion provoking an event’s politicization. Would they not then prefer to avoid any future difficult decision by not choosing Israeli films at all?

    This to me may be closer to the heart of the matter.

  10. luny Says:

    Meanwhile, Israel conducts its own boycott of a Palestinian cultural festival:

    If Edinburgh city counci would have sent in armed police to chase out Tali Shalom-Ezer for speaking at the cultural festival, I think most BDS supporters would have objected.

  11. duncan bryson Says:


    So that makes it OK then does it? The actions of the Israeli police in that circumstance are to be condemned, but unless you want to impose collective punishment on all Israelis in return, even those opposed to actions like those described, then how does it justify banning the film at Edinburgh?

  12. Fuck Off Ken Loach « A Rabbit’s Eye View of the Hyperborean North Says:

    […] By efrafandays Just thought I would get that off my chest. Mira Vogel at Engage Online has gratifying news that Israeli film director, Tali Shalom-Ezer will not self-boycott the Edinburgh International Film […]

  13. efrafandays Says:

    Luny is someone else who has difficulties distinguishing between individual Israelis/Jews and Israelis/Jews individually and, presumably as with Loach, considers that only those of the former who adhere to defined good behaviour should be welcome.

    When will Loach call for a boycott on account of the US Consulate’s sponsorship or of the involvement with British organizations which don’t take a sufficiently robust line in Iraq or Afghanistan? I look forward to his boycotting himself.

  14. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Israel gives £300 for an Israel director to present her non-political film at a supposedly non-political cultural event in a supposedly neutral third country, and the event organisers cave instantly to the first loud pressure to reject this. Public concern is non-existent.

    The Palestinian Authority sponsors an event designed first and foremost to bolster it’s demand for half a city that was never its own, and is denied. A quasi-governmental body representing a supposedly neutral third country — the French Cultural Institute — intervenes to salvage whatever victory can be had for the Palestinians. The episode will undoubtedly be used to retrospectively justify the politicising of the Edinburgh festival (Luny is quick to set the trend), and to justify the future cultural attacks on Israel and Israelis that we have already been promised.

    Tell me again how these two events are the same. Oh, and Luny:

    If Edinburgh city counci would have sent in armed police to chase out Tali Shalom-Ezer for speaking at the cultural festival, I think most BDS supporters would have objected.

    Do you really think so? You have more faith in them than I do.

  15. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Peccavi: Misspellings and grocers’ apostrophes.

  16. Ralph Marks Says:

    “Meanwhile, Israel conducts its own boycott of a Palestinian cultural festival”

    Luny, I strongly oppose the Israeli government not allowing the cultural festival to be held in East Jerusalem.
    Many Israelis protested the government action.

    However, the two cases are very disimilar. The Israeli police aren’t against Palestinian cultural festivals they just don’t allow them in East Jerusalem which of course is wrong.

    The Loach boycott is a general boycott of Israel/Jews period no matter where the film fesitval was held.

    In the first case the police action was part of a territorial dispute the second case was part of a call for the elimination of the Jewish State.

  17. Charlie H. Ettinson Says:

    I agree with some posters here that something stinks about this whole boycott. It does give me a bit of pause though that there are two other Israeli films being shown and nobody seems to have made a peep about them. I wonder if they plan or ever did plan to attend the festival.

    On the other hand though, this was an effort to keep an Israeli home it seems. Presumably, if Israel would not have given Ms. Shalom-Ezer the cash, she would have had to miss the festival, or parts of it. It’s a credit to the festival that they are footing the bill, but if they had not…

    I blogged about this myself, albeit, the post above (which I credited,) does a better job than I.

  18. Anne Lawrence Says:

    Ken Loach apparently thinks that attacks on Jews in Europe are ‘understandable’, given the strength of feeling against Israel. But if, say, elderly American tourists in Europe – who may well be Republicans who voted for Bush and supported the invasion of Iraq – were to be stoned or punched in the face, would that be equally ‘understandable’? would they be considered to have brought it upon themselves? If so, it’s strange that there have been no reports of any such attacks.

  19. Iain Says:

    I wonder if Ken Loach would suggest that Loyalist murders of Catholics during the Troubles were understandable because of the attacks of the IRA on Protestants? I suspect he might find it a little uncomfortable justifying UDA/UFF terrorism; he might feel it wrong to say that it is understandable for people to shoot and bomb a community defined by its religion and ethnicity. I also wonder if he feels that it is perfectly understandable that there are increasing attacks on mosques and other Islamic centres because of Islamic terrorism. It is a shame that he apparently does not have the intellectual capacity to see that his statement on anti-Jewish violence and terrorism is similarly unacceptable and shameful.

  20. Gary Sinyor on Ken Loach « Seismic Shock Says:

    […] both a modern form of theological antisemitism and calls for a boycott of Israel, has recently courted controversy for trying to make audiences boycott an Israeli film at the Edinburgh Film […]

  21. Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] background see Engage and We Are All Tali Shalom […]

  22. How dare you, Ken Loach « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] dare you, Ken Loach May 31, 2009 — Mira Vogel We had a recent post on Ken Loach and his prominent role in the storm opportunistically whipped up round Israeli director Tali Shalom […]

  23. Melbourne Tells Ken Loach to Get Lost at Z-Word Blog Says:

    […] this ghastly business which brought shame on the Edinburgh International Film Festival? Well, the equivalent festival in […]

  24. Fascists still want to kill Jews « Shiraz Socialist Says:

    […] Synangogues were the target. . Never forget it; never excuse it. […]

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