CAAM’s co-presentation of films in Israel China Cultural Festival

By Stephen Gong, Executive Director
July 26, 2012

On June 27 and 28, 2012 CAAM will be co-presenting four films as part of the
Israel China Cultural Festival in San Francisco.   Some members of the
community have contacted us expressing deep concern regarding this
involvement because the Israel China Cultural Festival is sponsored by the
Israeli Consulate. In addition, we recently met with a number of individuals
from the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel who
have asked us to explain our involvement in the festival and have further
asked that we withdraw from this project.  Our dialogue was constructive and
helped to clarify for us the reasons why we undertook this project and how
it reflects our mission as an arts and cultural non-profit organization.

CAAM presents many programs with other cultural groups and with the support
of governmental consulates. These are developed and evolve in a variety of
ways. In this case, our colleagues from the San Francisco Jewish Film
Festival asked that we join with them in developing a film program for the
upcoming Israel China Cultural Festival. We met and came up with a list of
films that highlight some of the unique cultural and historic connections
between the Jewish and Chinese communities, such as the remarkable saga of
the Jewish ghetto of Shanghai during WWII (Port of Last Resort) as well as a
CAAM-funded documentary that focuses on a Chinese adoptee and her
Jewish-American adoptive family (Wo Ai Ni Mommy). These films reflect the
missions of both of our organizations: to present little-told stories about
our respective communities, and in this case, the deeper connections and
histories we share.  We also share a belief in the power of the film medium
to bridge cultural divides and differences, and welcomed the opportunity to
work together in this way.  This is consistent with the many other
collaborations we undertake as a public media and arts organization in a
community as diverse and vibrant as the Bay Area.

We at CAAM do not see the co-presentation of these films as endorsing
policies of the State of Israel, nor was this ever made a condition of our

We understand the deeply-held conviction of those individuals and
organizations who have undertaken the boycott, and we share an aspiration
for a permanent and peaceful resolution of conflict in the Middle East, and
one that recognizes the right of self-determination for the Palestinian
people.  We have supported and presented films like City of Borders, about a
gay bar in Jerusalem that provided a haven for marginalized Palestinians and
Israelis alike.  We will continue to support and present such programs in
the future.

One of CAAM’s key organizational goals is to present relevant and engaging
programs that reflect the central and crucial issues of our times.  In
pursuing this goal we will at times stimulate challenging conversations.  We
will not shy away from these challenges but we also pledge to undertake
these programs with a deep sense of responsibility.  We respect the efforts
of those who have decided to mount a boycott as the best and most effective
way to bring about positive political change, but we have a different
approach to our work.  CAAM’s very founding was an assertion of the
importance of adding more voices, more images, more histories, and more
stories to the public space, and hopefully, to bring about social change
through cultural change.

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  • Stephen Gong
    Executive Director
    145 Ninth Street, Suite 350
    San Francisco, CA 94103-2641

    Dear Stephen,

    I write to you separately as an individual — a curator, scholar, and member of the API

    I thank you for taking the time to meet with us last Wednesday. Three weeks ago, I was
    disturbed to learn about CAAM’s collaboration with the Israeli Consulate. I attended the
    meeting last week not because I am part of USACBI, but as a supporter of CAAM and a
    scholar of Asian American film and culture. I wanted to hear in person what happened,
    the context of the partnership, and to hear how CAAM both thinks about, but also
    responds to very serious issues that impact not only the API and San Francisco
    community, but also the global community at large.

    During the meeting, I thought the conversation was productive insofar as it seemed to be
    the beginning of a long-term, multi-faceted conversation. Unfortunately, your response
    to the request to withdraw sponsorship from the Israel China Cultural Festival and your
    public statement to the CAAM community has shut down any kind of serious dialogue on
    the issues discussed last week. Furthermore, your decision to not respond to requests by
    AROC and other Arab American community members to meet in a timely manner to
    continue this conversation is not only regrettable, but exposes the hollowness of your
    good will gesture to work with and create alliances with other communities.

    The logic underpinning your decision not to withdraw your support from the festival is
    alarming and hypocritical especially in light of the history and mission of CAAM. It is
    with much dismay that I see CAAM, a reputable and important organization, play into the
    stereotype of Asian Americans as middlemen and apologists. Rather than see Asian
    American film as a powerful means of resistance and community-building, you are now
    complicit in using film and culture as a manipulative tool to rebrand a rogue nation-state
    whose international public image has been degraded due to its decades of oppression and
    occupation against the Palestinians.

    You say CAAM is not an activist or political organization but rather a cultural
    organization whose mission is to “present media that reflects a range of perspectives and
    experiences.” But allying yourself with the Israeli Consulate is a political action that
    endorses exclusion and implicitly supports Israel’s racialization of the Palestinians. Your
    belief that CAAM can exert influence and create social change by “adding more voices,
    more histories, and more stories to the public space” is flawed and functions as a selfserving
    excuse. Asian American film constantly reminds us through its narratives,
    framing and point of view how the public space is not a given, but always involves
    selection and exclusion. Your conception of CAAM as a neutral vehicle or blank screen
    is also problematic. CAAM’s selections of films, affiliations and sponsorships frame the
    way we see your films, festivals, and organization. As a cultural institution dedicated to
    presenting “relevant and engaging programs that reflect the central and crucial issues of
    our time,” CAAM has the responsibility to make transparent and question thoughtfully
    and rigorously the conditions underpinning your programs.

    In summary, I can see now that you missed the point at our meeting last Wednesday. I
    personally had hoped that you would see the boycott not as a strategic politicized means
    to end occupation, but as a principle and response-ability, to listen and respond to the call
    from the Palestinian community who are asking us, in this case, the API cultural
    community, to mobilize in order to for them to realize and live their basic rights. Instead,
    your non-response to this call helps to normalize the subjugation of Palestinians. Instead
    of working towards the protracted road to racial, social, and cultural justice and having a
    unique opportunity to be visionary by taking the lead in showing how the San Francisco
    API community should respond to decades of repressive tactics against people who have
    been dispossessed and colonized, CAAM is now institutionally complicit with an entity
    that has committed numerous and ongoing human rights violations against the

    Finally, for me the meeting was constructive in exposing CAAM’s blind spots and how
    its leadership sees its organization as presenting “accurate, diverse, and expansive”
    representations. I thought CAAM’s mission and vision were about so much more.

    Sincerely yours,
    Susette S. Min

  • There is good reason for artistic boycott of Israel and perhaps there should have been more research and discussion with those that understand it more completely. Hoping for an end to a brutal occupation by the State of Israel is not enough. There is no peace on the horizon due to Israel not seeing any need to end their illegal occupation and brutality against people. I just recently saw a film called the War Around Us — on the barbaric assault on Gaza by Israel. Perhaps your committee might have seen this film — the “images” are unforgettable.

    Israel is trying very hard to “rebrand” itself in light of the global scrutiny of its policies and the incessant breaking of international law and human rights abuses. Your collaboration legitimizes a recognition of a country that at this point in history is practicing in full view of the world, blatant racism, land theft, killing of innocents, and human rights abuses as a means to make life IMPOSSIBLE for Palestinians so that they might leave their own lands. The artistic boycott is part of a much larger boycott where citizens around the world can affect change, as has happened with South Africa historically. It is an important boycott especially as a means for those in the arts to effect change. Your organization will be adding to the ‘hasbara’ that has given Israel so much freedom to act with impunity in the most barbaric ways possible.
    CAAM is not adding a voice — but supporting a voice that has dominated media for decades –Israel’s propaganda machine -, the histories are skewed and the stories bent. Social change comes from truth —and it is highly unlikely that this “sharing” will bear much fruit other than again, legitimizing Israel’s propaganda machine.

  • Would you be willing to work on a project co-sponsored by North Korea, Bahrain or Congo if endorsement of the policies of any of those governments is not a condition?  If not, what is the meaning of your principles and why do not the same principles apply to Israel?

  • I assume from this that, during the cultural boycott against Apartheid in South Africa, you would welcome sponsoring a “Joint South Africa China Cultural Festival with the South African Consulate.

  • This was the letter presented to CAAM by a coalition of individuals–scholars and activists–not all of whom belong to USACBI, but all of whom support its principles:

    The US Campaign
    for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), and the undersigned
    groups and individuals [removed from public posting], are deeply dismayed and disappointed that CAAM is
    sponsoring the Israel China film festival on June 26-28 at the San Francisco
    Public Library, as part of the Israel-China Festival this year.


    CAAM’s official partnership
    in this program with the Israeli consulate, and thus with the Israeli
    government, is extremely troubling. It implies CAAM’s endorsement of the Israeli
    state’s illegal military occupation, annexation of land, home demolitions, and collective
    punishment and displacement of Palestinians, all of which have been condemned
    globally and in hundreds of UN resolutions. Israel has inflicted military
    assaults on Palestinians using brutal and disproportionate violence and illegal
    chemical weapons, such as during the massacre in Gaza in 2008-09 that killed 1400
    Palestinians. Israel has constructed a Wall that not only restricts Palestinian
    life and livelihood and divides families but has also annexed Palestinian lands;
    the Wall has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. Israel
    has enacted systemic and often legally sanctioned discrimination against its Palestinian
    citizens  because they are non-Jews,
    leading Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and many other international
    human rights activists to liken Israeli policies to those of apartheid; for
    some, they are even worse than those of apartheid South Africa. Israel continues to deny hundreds
    of thousands of Palestinian refugees their right of return as enshrined in
    international law. Israel’s violations of human rights are simply too many  to recount in a brief summary. However,
    they are by now well documented and increasingly challenged by the growing boycott,
    divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement around the world and in the U.S., one that
    is supported by leading artists and intellectuals of diverse backgrounds.


    If you are not aware of the BDS movement,
    it is not too late for CAAM to join this global struggle for human rights.
    Palestinian civil society has called on the international community to engage
    in an academic and cultural boycott of Israel:


    “Given that hundreds of UN
    resolutions have condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as
    illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies, and Given
    that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now
    failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect
    fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people
    of Palestine, and In view of the fact that people of conscience in the
    international community have historically shouldered the moral responsibility
    to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in
    South Africa through diverse forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions” [RA1] (


    The US Academic
    and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) was founded in response to this call from
    Palestinian civil society and was inspired by the spirit of international
    solidarity, moral consistency, and resistance to injustice and oppression. While
    those who attempt to silence critics of Israel often hurl  gratuitous accusation of anti-Semitism
    at any one who dares to challenge the Israeli state, the boycott is an effective,
    antiracist campaign and will continue until Israel ceases its violations of
    human rights. USACBI opposes cultural programs that are sponsored by the Israeli
    state and are increasingly used to whitewash Israel’s violations of
    international human rights and war crimes and to legitimize its illegal
    occupation and apartheid practices. [RA2] 


    In its attempt
    to undermine the rapidly expanding BDS movement, Israel has resorted to the “Brand
    Israel” campaign and has spent millions of dollars to improve its public image
    through cultural programming and outreach to diverse communities. The CAAM
    festival seems to be another example of this discredited propaganda campaign. [RA3] None of the featured
    films address the Israeli occupation nor racially discriminatory and
    segregation policies that target Palestinians, nor indeed Palestinian
    experiences in any form. There are by now many films that powerfully document
    the situation on the ground in Israel, made by Palestinian and Israeli
    filmmakers. None of these films are being shown at this festival. In fact, the
    festival seems to be an attempt to evade an honest and open discussion of the
    reality of Israel and to forge an alliance with the Chinese and Asian American
    community on the backs of silenced Palestinians.

    In addition, we
    are troubled by the self-professed attempt of the Israel China Festival to co-opt
    Chinese and Asian American communities into celebrating the “continued
    vitality” of two “global leaders” and the “remarkable
    economic nexus which has formed between Israel, China and Silicon Valley,”
    erasing any discussion of human rights abuses, labor exploitation, and
    occupation. While we do not oppose the exploration of cultural traditions or
    common histories, we strongly object to an alliance between Israel and China that
    is built on the censorship of histories of settler colonialism or of


    We strongly believe
    that Asian American community organizations and individuals should stand in
    solidarity with those challenging occupation, apartheid, warfare, and
    colonialism, and not engage in the normalizing of  oppression. In addition, we are deeply concerned about the
    partnership of Chinese American and Asian American cultural organizations with
    an anti-Palestinian program, rather than with antiracist and anticolonial projects
    that stand for social justice and human rights for ALL.


    We ask CAAM:
    will you take a principled stand against occupation, colonization, and




    US Campaign for
    the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

    Al Awda: The Palestine
    Right to Return Coalition

    The Arab Film Festival

    National Coalition of
    Arab Americans

    Arab Resource
    and Organizing Center (AROC), San Francisco

    Arab and Muslim Ethnicities
    and Diasporas Initiative, College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State

    Bay Area Labor
    Committee for Peace & Justice

    Davis Committee for
    Palestinian Rights

    Friends of

    Wisconsin Middle
    East Lobby Group

    Berkeley Women in

    San Francisco Women
    In Black

    Students Allied for
    Freedom & Equality (SAFE), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    US Palestinian
    Community Network (USPCN)

    Queers Undermining
    Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!)

    14 Friends of
    Palestine, Marin

    Free Palestine

    Solidarity Movement – Northern California

    Global March to
    Jerusalem – North America

    South Bay
    Mobilization for Peace and Justice

    American Muslims
    for Palestine

    Middle East Study Group,
    Contra Costa

    Hilton Head for
    Peace, Hilton Head, SC

    St. Louis Palestine
    Solidarity Committee

    National Lawyers
    Guild-Free Palestine Subcommittee

    Peace in the Precincts
    – Sacramento

    United Methodists’
    Holy Land Task Force

    Bay Area Women in

    Advocates for Peace, Ann Arbor, Michigan

    Community for Palestinian Rights, Austin, Texas

    Sacramento BDS

    may want to indent this quote.


    sure if this is necessary

    cheesy; maybe another more appropriate term.

  • Many from the API community called for CAAM to respect the cultural boycott of Israel and remove themselves from their partnership in the Israel China Film Festival.  A number of letters objecting to the participation were presented to CAAM, including the one below signed by activists, cultural workers and academics from the API community:

    Dear Mr. Stephen Gong,

    On behalf of the Asian American organizations and individuals listed below [removed from public posting], we are writing to express our deep concern regarding the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) participation as a co-sponsor of the Israel China Film Festival, as part of the

    Israel China Cultural Festival, in San Francisco.

    We ask CAAM to respect the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel

    (, a growing movement of international civil society modeled after the

    struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through boycott, divestment, and sanctions

    (BDS), in the face of Israel’s countless violations of human rights. As Asian Americans,

    we have a long history of struggles against racism and injustice—from mobilization

    against the anti-Chinese exclusion act and Japanese American internment camps to

    exploitation of Filipino American laborers and hate crimes and violence against South

    Asian and other Asian Americans—not to mention histories of struggles against

    colonialism and wars in our homelands. Thus we are in solidarity with the Palestinian

    people who have faced many injustices caused by Israel, including the colonization and

    theft of Palestinian land, displacement and dispossession, military occupation,

    massacres of civilians, home demolitions, racial segregation, restrictions on freedom of

    movement, and countless war crimes that have been condemned by the United


    It is therefore very disturbing for us to learn that CAAM is partnering with the Israeli

    consulate to sponsor an Israel film festival as part of the Israel China Cultural Festival.

    This festival uses cultural exchange as a means of whitewashing the reality of

    occupation and apartheid—a reality in which Palestinians have lived under an illegal

    military occupation and siege for 45 years, the “Apartheid Wall” restricts the daily lives

    of Palestinians, thousands of Palestinians are detained as political prisoners,

    Palestinians in Israel face systemic discrimination in multiple realms simply because

    they are not Jewish, Palestinian families have been refused the right to return to their

    homes for generations and many continue to live in refugee camps in Palestine and

    elsewhere. Yet not one of the films featured in this festival seems to address these

    realities, which we find shocking.

    As a community media organization, it is important for CAAM to recognize the political

    significance of this “cultural” partnership with the Israeli consulate, which is essentially a

    partnership with a government body. By participating in this festival, Asian Americans

    are being used as cultural ambassadors to sanitize the public image of Israel, while

    hiding its human rights violations. By excluding the voices of those who have been

    affected by Israeli occupation, war crimes, and apartheid, this cultural festival is an

    insult to Palestinian and Arab American communities and a disgrace to Asian American

    communities and people of conscience who strive to stand in solidarity with oppressed

    communities, locally and globally.

    We are also troubled by this partnership because as a community that is generally

    stereotyped as the “model minority,” Asian Americans are often pitted against other

    marginalized communities and used to erase the historical exclusion and oppression of

    other minority groups. It is critical for our community to show solidarity with other

    communities of color, including the Palestinian and Arab American community, as

    Japanese Americans and other groups have done since 2001 in forming coalitions

    against the racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans. CAAM’s partnership will be a

    huge blow to these coalitions and a violation of these principles of solidarity against

    racial injustice and colonial oppression. Participating in the festival allows Asian

    American communities to be used in the normalization of Israel’s human rights abuses.

    Many important CAAM productions and SF International Asian American Film Festival

    films have documented how Asian Americans have taken an active stance in the civil

    rights movement, labor movement, immigrant rights struggles, and protests against

    warfare and imperialism. CAAM has consistently tried to be an outlet for the stories of

    Asian American and underrepresented communities and we hope that it would try to do

    the same for West Asian/ Arab American communities as well, or at the least, not erase

    their experiences. It is our hope that CAAM will maintain its commitment to supporting

    Asian American voices against injustice and stand in solidarity with Palestinian and

    Arab American communities by not participating in the Israel China Cultural Festival.

    We call on CAAM to join the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

    movement in opposition to Israeli human rights violations and to join the hundreds of

    groups across the US and around the world that stand on the side of human rights for

    all. BDS is an expression of principled opposition to the notion that certain groups can

    be excluded from human rights and the right to freedom and self-determination, due to

    their race or religion. The cultural boycott campaign is an institutional, not individual,

    boycott and so it does not oppose screenings of Israeli films that are not part of a

    whitewashing campaign nor censor collaboration with Israeli artists. The cultural boycott

    does not preclude cultural exchange or freedom of expression; on the contrary, it

    champions honest and fully open dialogue in which the stories of those who suffer from

    racism and colonialism are not silenced.



    Anakbayan – East Bay

    ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action)

    Asian Americans for Peace and Justice (AAPJ)

    Asian Prisoner Support Committee


    BAYAN USA-Northern California

    Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans (HOBAK)

    League of Filipino Students – BAYAN USA

    Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

    South Asians for Justice – Los Angeles

    Xicana Moratorium Coalition

    [Individuals removed from public posting.]

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