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Berlin festival to honor director who backs Israel boycott

BERLIN (JTA) – A film director who backs boycotting Israeli artists is to receive the highest honorary award at the International Film Festival in Berlin.

Jewish leaders in Germany have reacted with dismay to the decision to award an honorary Golden Bear to Ken Loach, British director of such films as “My Name Is Joe” (1998) and “Bread And Roses” (2000). He is set to receive the award on Thursday.

“Ken Loach uses his prominence to call for a cultural boycott of Israel, singling out the only democracy in the Middle East where there is complete freedom of expression. It is a disgrace that a prominent German film festival panders to a film producer who has distinguished himself through bigotry and the denial of the right to existence of Israel,” said Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee. “It is not possible to judge his work on the basis of art alone, as he himself judges the work of others solely on the basis of nationality.”

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement on the festival’s website that he admires Loach for his “profound interest in people and their individual fates, as well as his critical commitment to society.”

According to the online magazine Haolam.de, Loach called for a boycott of the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2009 after he learned that Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom Ezer had been invited, and that the Israeli government had helped finance her trip. Also in 2009, he canceled plans to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival after learning that the Israeli government had paid for the flight of animation artist Tatia Rosenthal.

In a recent interview with Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, Loach was asked why he supported boycotting Israel. He responded that “Israel presents itself as a western democracy… and at the same time breaks international agreements, fails to uphold the Geneva Convention, takes land to which it has no right, throws children in prison and lies to the world about its nuclear weapons.”

Loach said he supported an academic and cultural boycott because “it’s the only thing we can do” to accomplish what “neither the U.N. nor Obama has managed to do,” to get Israel to give up what he called occupied land.

He said that he had refused to go to the Tehran Film Festival out of respect for opponents of that regime.

This year’s Berlin Film Festival includes fewer films from Israel than in recent years.

 

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