Text size

Gay activists in Israel and Canada have sharply criticized a prominent director from Toronto for boycotting Israel's upcoming gay film festival, while pursuing plans to screen films in Ramallah.

John Greyson, a leading filmmaker of gay-themed cinema, had verbally accepted an invitation to premier one of his films in June at the Tel Aviv International LGBT film festival, organized by TLVFest.

Last month, Greyson sent organizers a cancellation letter saying "Israeli apartheid week" - an annual series of anti-Israel events in Canada - "helped clarify" his thoughts. Not joining the "growing boycott movement against Israeli apartheid," he said, "is unthinkable, impossible."

"What Greyson has done is an act of violence both against Israeli gays as well as [gay] Palestinians, for whom this festival is a rare ray of light," said Yair Hochner, the festival's Israeli-born organizer and an internationally-acclaimed director. Greyson told Anglo File this week: "With ongoing violations by Israel of Palestinian human rights and given the specific content of my film, screening it in Israel would be hypocrisy." The film, "Fig Trees," deals with a Canadian AIDS patient's refusal to take drugs until they were made available in South Africa.

Greyson, who screened his "Zero Patience" in the 1994 Jerusalem Film Festival, also cited Operation Cast Lead in explaining the refusal. He stated he has been a supporter of Palestinian rights for many years, but only recently concluded the cultural boycott of Israel is a necessary stand to take.

In his letter, Greyson, 49, cited the "cultural boycott" that "worked in South Africa's case, and led directly to sweeping changes." He wrote to Hochner: "I yearn for [the time] when we can together attend screenings - in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah."

Noting Hamas' popularity in the West Bank and Gaza, Hochner replied to Greyson: "I hope so, but your dream is very far away," adding, "Like the terrorists and like the Israeli army, you have decided to blow up a bridge instead of building one."

Hochner noted Geryson had asked his help in arranging a screening in Ramallah's PA-funded film house. Homosexuality is a crime in the Palestinian Authority, and sodomy carries a ten-year jail term. Hamas, which rules Gaza, has an overtly anti-gay stance based on Islamic law.

When asked whether the legal status of gay people in Ramallah and Gaza could deter him from showing his works there, Greyson said: "I haven't been invited to show my work in Gaza so this hypothetical question is irrelevant. There are plenty of places where I have not been invited to show my work," he added.

"As an outspoken Israeli gay and civil rights activist, I am puzzled at Greyson's ability to so slickly sidestep the blatant gay apartheid in Gaza," said Jonathan Danilowitz, an activist in the gay support group Tehila, who immigrated to Israel from Johannesburg in 1971.

James Viloria from Montreal, the author of the influential, highbrow blog "Gay Persons of Color," said of Canada's Israel apartheid week: "I declined invitations [to the events] feeling I couldn't participate in a movement that vilified the only country in the Middle East in which gay people have legal rights." Viloria, a Filipino by origin, added: "I'm not sure what motivates protest that takes as its enemy a nation that protects not only gay Israelis, but also gay Palestinians."

Greyson's actions also angered Fred Litwin from Ottawa, author of the GayandRight blog, which has recently been elected as among the top five Canadian gay-themed blogs. "Just when does he think he'll be able to show his film in Ramallah?" Litwin told Haaretz. "It would be interesting to see him show it in Gaza."