by: debbie southorn
On Thursday, October 11th, Center on Halsted executive staff agreed to meet with an ad-hoc coalition of LGBTQ organizers. We wanted to engage the Center in a good faith discussion on its sponsorship and hosting of a screening with the Festival of Israeli Cinema, scheduled for October 25th. We feel that this screening, due to its content and its funding sources, is inconsistent with the Center’s commitment to the greater good for the queer community and therefore in our conversation asked the Center to cancel the film screening. We feel the public deserves an account of our experience of this meeting.
CEO Modesto Valle made it clear at the beginning of the meeting of his intentions to move forward with the screening, while describing himself as willing to dialogue and sensitive to the Center being “used as a puppet” in this matter. Director of Programs Julie Walther was also present.
Valle explained that COH staff invited the collaboration and suggested the two particular films to be screened. Valle further noted that COH agreed to sponsor and donate the space for the event, and the festival itself covered the cost to exhibit the films.
Organizers explained that Israel’s well-documented pinkwashing initiative is presented as a smokescreen to the systematic oppression and exclusionary politics of the state against the Palestinian population. By hosting and co-sponsoring a festival with Israeli government institutions (the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest and the Israel Ministry of Tourism) and allied organizations that operate under the mission of “Brand Israel”, the Center is acquiescing to an exploitative agenda, and alienating LGBTQ Palestinians and their allies in the community. Furthermore, the screening would cross a well-established picket line inspired by the fight for South African liberation, launched in 2005, against Israeli institutions and cultural events which are complicit in the occupation of Palestine.
Organizers also mentioned the victory achieved on Oct. 7th, when the documentary “Invisible Men” (a film whose festival engagements have been backed by Israeli consulates and “Brand Israel” affinity groups) was pulled from the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival. Pulling the event, we argued, would build on this precedent and be a historic moment for the Center to take the lead in the Chicago community on a timely social justice struggle.
Despite making our case in numerous ways, we left the meeting without a commitment from Valle on whether or not they will be canceling the event, or when we would hear back from them with a decision. Only yesterday, October 18th, did they respond to say they are going to go ahead with the screening, with no additional explanation provided.
As such, we are launching a call-in day to the Center to keep up the pressure on the Center to cancel today, October 19th, and will be hosting a picket of the screening on Oct. 25, @ 6pm. Please join us and bring your queer loving rage for justice. Never again, for anyone!
debbie southorn is an indy video producer and social justice activist based in Chicago. she organizes with the Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights, a diverse, youth-led group advocating justice and liberation for Palestine. She digs making videos for Chain Reaction, a project promoting alternatives to calling the police on young people, and hanging out with kiddos with the Chicago Childcare Collective.