Bollywood turns a Blind Eye to Israeli Apartheid
January 19, 2018
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Bollywood “A-listers” at the Shalom Bollywood event yesterday. The event was meant to promote the ties between Bollywood and Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu inviting Bollywood to shoot its films in Israel, saying, "We believe in Bollywood. World loves Bollywood. Israel loves Bollywood. We want Bollywood in Israel. We are putting our money where our mouth is.” Bollywood heavyweight Amitabh Bachchan welcomed the move, saying, “May cinema further fructify the strength of ties between India and Israel." Netanyahu,
What Bachchan, and the rest of Bollywood, seem to have forgotten is that Netanyahu’s appreciation for the Hindi film industry has got less to do with admiration and everything to do with Israel’s hasbara, its cultural propaganda. The New York Times quoted Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs, Arye Mekel, in a 2009 article, as having said, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. …This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” What this essentially means is that Israel is consciously attempting to deflect attention away from the atrocities that they’re subjecting Palestinians to, and garner support.
Israel has been making sustained efforts to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, a movement launched by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005, for a while now. The Shalom Bollywood event was just another occasion to do the same.
In the run up to Shalom Bollywood, The Quint ran an article listing seven Hollywood movies and/or television shows which were filmed in Israel. The writer says, “The discussion of Middle East politics continues to be polarised. Israel is at the heart of a political conflict over land control but there’s much to be said about its entrancing landscape. Teeming with well-preserved archaeological treasures, religious sites, the buzzing Tel Aviv beaches, sweeping desert vistas, stark mountains, salty Dead Sea that makes it possible for one to float and Bedouin encampments, the country offers a treasure trove of authentic locations.”
Sure, much can be said about Israel’s “entrancing” landscape, one of the most important of them being that Palestinians themselves do not have access to this landscape, to their own lands. In fact, they aren't even allowed to leave. Israel severely restricts their freedom of movement. This, itself, should make it clear that Netanyahu’s offer to Bollywood is a political move.
It is another example of Israel giving freedom of movement selectively. This “easy access” is only for those who support Israel, in other words, those who do not question Israel’s second class treatment of Arab Israelis and their human rights violations in Palestine and occupied Palestine.
Bollywood must not forget that the only reason they have been granted access is because Israel hopes that Bollywood will help them in their cultural propaganda. If producers choose to shoot their movies there, then they become participants and supporters of Israel’s oppression of Palestine and its people.
Besides, The Quint’s article was clearly trying to pitch the idea of shooting in Israel as appealing. In doing so, it choose to ignore the reasons for why we must boycott Israel. To clarify, the BDS Movement does not call for a boycott of Israelis, but of Israeli institutions.
There are those who claim that, by demanding that Bollywood boycott Israel, we are taking away their freedom — creative freedom, freedom of speech & expression, freedom of movement. But to believe so would be to hold a very narrow view of freedom itself. While Bollywood and Indians might have the freedom to enter and move freely within Israel, the Palestinians do not.
Palestinian filmmakers have to apply for permits to shoot in Israel, which, more often than not, they’re not granted. By boycotting Israel, Bollywood would be speaking for freedom, i.e., freedom of the people living under Israeli subjugation; they would be standing up for Palestinians, who have been suffering under Israeli oppression for decades. There is no act that is only cultural and not political, and Israel is well aware of this.
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