Anti-Israel protest at film fest irks local gay Jews, consulate

Frameline has apologized for allowing protesters on stage after a screening Saturday night of an Israeli film at its San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

As the credits began to roll during Saturday night's screening of "Yossi & Jagger" in the Castro Theatre, six women took the stage with two banners reading "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie," and "17,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were killed by the Israeli forces in Lebanon."

The first poster was a joke — sort of. But the second was meant to call attention to the fact that the movie, a love story between two gay soldiers in the Israeli army, took place on an army base on the Lebanese border, with no context provided about Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

The women who held the banners belong to Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT), a Berkeley-based organization.

Kate Raphael, a QUIT member, said the first banner was a riff on the disclaimer that appears in many movies, and while it was meant to be humorous, there was a grain of truth to it.

Referring to a rabbit that appears in the beginning of the film, Raphael said, "People would be really upset if they knew the rabbit…was harmed, but they don't want to think about the Palestinians."

No QUIT members had seen the film before the Saturday night screening, but they heard that the film provided no background for the war, in which Israel invaded Lebanon to root out Palestinian terrorism.

"There's no reference at all to the people on the other side of the border," Raphael said in an interview on Monday. "During the Lebanon war, 17,000 people were slaughtered, but in the movie, the Palestinians or Lebanese are not there at all."

While some might view the soldiers as victims of a society where military service is mandatory, Raphael said they were still responsible for their actions.

"They are victims in the same way Nazi soldiers were victims in 1941," she said. "Certainly a lot of them were, but a lot of them were committing atrocities. They're officers and are responsible for their actions."

The signs were barely visible in the dark theater, before organizers ushered the protesters off stage. Their presence, though, sparked many boos and hisses, as well as applause from members of the crowd.

One of those outraged was Yossi Amrani. The Consulate General of Israel was a sponsor of the film, and its head was in attendance, but Amrani was not scheduled to speak. The protest, though, caused him to approach Frameline, the film festival's organizer, to ask for the microphone.

In an interview on Monday, Amrani recapped his remarks, which he remembered to be something along the lines of, "This is a movie about culture and love and tolerance in Israel, and in this community of tolerance I would expect and ask people who are booing each other to join in the spirit of love and acceptance of one another."

While some were so outraged they left the theater, Amrani asked everyone to stay, which led to a charged question-and-answer session with the film's producer, Gal Uchovsky.

Raphael said that Uchovsky made it clear that he opposed the Sharon-led government by cracking a joke that the Israeli Consulate General could have provided him with more than a coach ticket if it weren't supporting illegal settlements in the West Bank. But he did not address the issues QUIT raised. Uchovsky left town before he could be reached for comment.

The effects of the protest were felt days after. Erik Friedenthal, who was in the audience Saturday night, said he was highly offended by what happened.

While the S.F.-based Frameline sent out a bulletin to its members and the media giving a summary of the night's events, Friedenthal felt it was erroneous and sensationalist and just added insult to injury. It didn't help that the event made it onto the Web page of the leading gay magazine, The Advocate, and into Leah Garchik's column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

On Monday, the Berkeley resident sent a lengthy letter to Frameline, the Consulate General of Israel, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the film's distributor.

"As a Jewish gay man, the festival itself, and the inclusion and sponsorship of films of Jewish/Israeli content are a continuing source of pride and appreciation," he wrote. Nevertheless, he continued, "I have been attending the festival for over 20 years, and this was the lowest moment in all my years of attending the festival."

Meanwhile, Frameline's executive director, Michael Lumpkin, sent out a statement Tuesday to all its members, apologizing for what happened.

"For an organization that produces such a large community cultural event it is very disturbing to lose control of what occurs on stage," the statement began. "Frameline and the festival apologize to audience members and the film's producer for our loss of control of the evening's program."

The Frameline staff did what it could to remove the protesters from stage as quickly as possible, Lumpkin noted. "We have heard from a few people that there is a perception that Frameline staff was involved, and even complicit, with the protest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Frameline staff went on stage with the sole purpose of reestablishing control so that we could continue with our scheduled program as quickly as possible."

Donny Inbar, the cultural attaché at the Consulate General of Israel, was saddened by the fact that the protestors, who are both Jewish and queer, don't realize that "Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which gays, lesbians and transgender people have the freedom to be out and an integral part of society."

He continued, "Israel has served as sanctuary to Palestinian gays who felt persecuted at home. I wonder how those protesters would survive in their ideal Israel-free Middle East, where being what they are means a death warrant or just long imprisonment."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."