Vienna cinema censors film about Palestinian football

Ali Abunimah 5 September 2019
Activists are expressing outrage after a cinema in Vienna canceled the Austrian premiere of a film about Palestinian football.

Meanwhile in Canada, campaigners are protesting a decision by the ruling Liberal Party to drop a parliamentary candidate based on false allegations of anti-Semitism.
BDS Austria, a group that supports the campaign to boycott Israel for its violations of Palestinian rights, saysthe cancellation of the screening of ¡Yallah! ¡Yallah! is censorship.
Directed by Cristian Pirovano and Fernando Romanazzo, the 2017 feature is an Argentinian-Palestinian co-production that tells the stories of seven Palestinians through their connection to football.
The screening was supposed to take place at the Artis International cinema on Tuesday followed by a discussion with Pirovano, who is on a European tour. The film has been screened in dozens of cities worldwide.
Co-director Pirovano condemned the censorship.
“The last-minute cancellation of the film screening by Artis cinema, which belongs to Cineplexx Ltd., the largest cinema operator in Austria, is unlawful and unacceptable,” BDS Austria said.
According to the group, the cinema claimed that “in recent days we increasingly received information and messages which pointed out the politically controversial statement not so much of the film as such, but of the movement supported by BDS.”
BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions, a campaign started by Palestinians and modeled on the global solidarity movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa.
The goals of BDS are to pressure Israel to obey international law by ending military occupation of Palestinian land, abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to go back home.
But in 2018, the Vienna city council adopted a resolution calling for non-cooperation with the BDS movement and smearing it as anti-Semitic.
BDS Austria says that Artis cited this resolution as its pretext for banning the screening.
The group accuses the city of enacting “unreasonable and disproportionate restriction on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly” and of “organized and institutional racism.”
Activists protested outside the Artis cinema following the cancellation of ¡Yallah! ¡Yallah!.
Draconian censorship
This incident vindicates fears that the adoption of highly politicized definitions of anti-Semitism pushed by Israel and its lobby encourages draconian censorship.
Israel and its allies are pressing for institutional adoption of the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel’s racist policies and practices, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.
Austria, a member of the European Union which purports to uphold freedom of speech as a fundamental right, is increasingly hostile territory for free expression.
In March, even the left-wing Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Vienna banned BDS Austria.
The same month, Vienna’s Volkskundemuseum, under pressure from Israel lobby groups, canceled an event on Palestinian rights where Ronnie Kasrils was scheduled to speak.
Kasrils is an anti-apartheid veteran and former minister in Nelson Mandela’s government.
Last year, the University of Vienna bowed to pressure from Austria’s Israel lobby and banned a public lecture by a veteran Black American activist.
And in 2017, a hotel in Vienna canceled a presentation by a human rights lawyer after intimidation by anti-Palestinian activists.
Canadian candidate smeared as anti-Semitic
Last week, Canada’s ruling Liberal Party dropped Hassan Guillet as a candidate in a Quebec constituency in the country’s October general election.
This came after Israel lobby group B’nai Brith Canada accused Guillet of posting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements online.
But Independent Jewish Voices Canada is outraged at the decision.
“Upon examination of the facts, it is evident to us that Guillet is anything but an anti-Semite,” IJV national coordinator Corey Balsam said.
“What is abundantly clear is that Guillet has been targeted on account of his vocal criticism of Israel and its policies.”
B’nai Brith Canada accused Guillet of congratulating Raed Salah upon his release from a “prison of occupied Palestine” and wishing for the liberation of “all of Palestine.”
Salah is a prominent leader among Palestinian citizens of Israel. He has faced prison in Israel repeatedly for his political activities.
In 2011, UK authorities ordered Salah deported based on bogus allegations of anti-Semitism from an Israel lobby group in that country.
After a 10-month legal battle, Salah was completely vindicated as a court upheld his appeal against the deportation “on all grounds.”
On the day after Israel massacred dozens of unarmed protesters in Gaza in May 2018, B’nai Brith Canada promoted the racist smear that Palestinians deliberately send their children to die merely for the sake of a “photo-op” that would embarrass Israel.
Yet the group purports to be fighting bigotry.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada slammed B’nai Brith for citing the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was recently adopted by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Global concern for Palestinian human rights is obviously causing Israel and its supporters a great deal of worry,” Balsam said.
“So, instead of trying to defend Israel’s actions – which is just about impossible – they have opted simply to label critics as anti-Semitic. We need, as a society, to see through this.”
Thanks to efforts by Independent Jewish Voices Canada, working alongside Palestinian rights groups and civil liberties activists, the Vancouver city council decided in July not to adopt the IHRA definition.