Did They or Didn’t They?

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, which takes place each summer aback the wider festival scene in Edinburgh, is reported to have declined an offer of sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy in London, as announced on the oxymoronically-named Socialist Unity blog by contributor John Wight.

Ginnie Atkinson, Managing Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) has confirmed that EIFF will not be taking Israeli Embassy money to help fund the 2009 film festival. Atkinson was unwilling to admit EIFF was influenced by Scottish PSC, or by the protest emails the EIFF has received since Tuesday, and said that the decision was “a natural conclusion to having realised that we had made a mistake in the first place”.

Their decision follows the Scottish PSC call earlier today for a protest outside the Filmhouse in Edinburgh where the EIFF is based. Mention of the Israeli Embassy on the EIFF’s ‘Honour Board’ was removed after Atkinson and the EIFF admitted that “it was a mistake to accept the £300 from the Israeli Embassy”.

But what’s going on here?  The website of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, where Wight appears to be the press officer, has published the text of an e-mail received from Atkinson the day before this posting at the Socialist Unity site:

We regret that you have found cause to express concern about a source of cultural funding.

We accept funding from a variety of international cultural institutions to enable filmmakers to travel with their work. It is important that filmmakers come with their films to engage in a dialogue with international audiences. The funding comes from cultural support agencies of one sort or another; national cultural institutes, consulates, embassies, and others. This year alone we have financial contributions from Denmark, Poland, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Germany, USA and France. We do not make these arrangements based on any allegiance or otherwise with the political regime in any given country. Choosing not to accept support from one particular country would set a dangerous precedent by politicising what is a wholly cultural and artistic mission. We are firm believers in free cultural exchange, and do not feel that ghettoising filmmakers or restricting their ability to communicate artistically on the basis that they come from a troubled territory is of any benefit. Nor do we see that filmmakers are voices of their government. It is particularly important in situations of strife and conflict that artists be supported in having their voices heard.

We hope this allays some, if not all, of your concerns.

If this e-mail is genuine, it is more than Wight’s demeanour merits.   In the run-up to the 2008 EIFF he publicized an e-mail which, in his apparent capacity of press-officer for the SPSC, he’d sent:

Please be advised.Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition, in conjunction with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, demands that the Edinburgh International Film Festival cancels its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy with immediate effect. If this demand is not complied with forthwith, we will ensure that a picket is present at every event organised by the Film Festival, that the contact details of your office are released nationally to ensure your phone lines and email is deluged with calls and emails, and that the reputation of the Festival is discredited all over the world. It is also our intention to contact your delegates asking them to stage a boycott.Please reply with your decision asap.Yours in disgust

Note to Atkinson, if I ever received a communication like this, I would start my response with summat like “if you persist with such aggressive and confrontation style, I will be unable and unwilling to assist you”.  And made clear my willingness to contact the “relevant authorities” if he persisted. And called him a fucking nutter.

That said, this communication is definitely at odds with the posting on the Socialist Unity site. And, the SPSC has form on guilding the anti-Zionist lilly. Announcing, with great fanfare, in December, that the water-cooler company, Eden Springs which they had identified as Israeli owned, was on the backfoot after rejections of multiple contracts in Scotland (including Caledonian MacBrayne ferry operators which they wrongly claimed was the sole ferry operator up here), contrary information was quickly found:

A spokesman for West Lothian Council told The Jerusalem Post: “This is a total fabrication. We did move from Eden Springs to AG Barr, but only because our contract with Eden Springs had expired on August 31. The original contract was three years and we even extended the contract for a further year. Barr’s contract is a Scotland Excel [procurement organization for local authorities] collaborative contract.”

Others have also denied the claim: East Lothian Council told the Post that they never had a contract with Eden Springs and while the company had supplied water coolers at one time, the decision to use a different supplier was based on practical factors.

“Although Eden Springs did supply East Lothian Council with water coolers, we didn’t have a contract with them,” the spokesperson said.

“The council is a member of Scotland Excel, a procurement organization for Scottish local authorities. While reviewing our services we used Scotland Excel to consider the supply of our water coolers and now have a contract with a new supplier.”

A spokesman for Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries told the Post they were “puzzled” by the claim.

“We are puzzled at the claim that we terminated our contract with Eden as a result of pressure from activists, as it was as a result of the company itself informing us that they could no longer provide water to our locations on the northwest coast of Scotland that led us to seek an alternative supplier.”

[…]

A spokeswoman for Heriot-Watt University said: “Heriot-Watt did terminate a contract with Eden Springs, one of a group of suppliers providing bottled water for use in water coolers, in March 2008. This decision was made purely on the grounds of service issues relating to Eden, and was not in any way affected by political issues or calls to boycott the company.”

An SCVO spokesperson told the Post they changed suppliers a year ago and that cost had been the main reason behind for the change.

[…]

A spokesman for Stevenson College said the claim was “incorrect,” and that the college “is continuing to use Eden Springs as our water supplier.”

I have just telephoned the EIFF office, but was greeted only by a smooth and very appealing American accent (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t Canadian) on the answering system. Likewise, the Israeli Embassy switchboard is closed, as revealed by an equally pleasant voice.

What’s going on???

UPDATE – as part of Socialist Unity’s commitment to tolerating dissent, my queries as to the above in their comments boxes are being subjected to a Kronstad assault. The Israeli Embassy was definitely included a couple of days ago on the EIFF’s webpage as a sponsor, but is no more. In the exceedingly unlikely event that I have readers, I’ll keep ewes updated.

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