The Labia Theatre has cancelled the screening of Roadmap to Apartheid, a documentary that compares the circumstances of Palestinians to those of black South Africans under apartheid.
The free screening was to take place on Thursday evening, hosted by the Right2Know campaign (R2K) in association with the theatre and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
Roadmap to Apartheid, directed by journalist Ana Noguira, has won awards at film festivals around the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, quoted on the film’s official website, says the film is “very powerful and compelling, and the visuals of house demolitions are appalling.
“Religion is repeatedly misused by politicians. Yet one of the lessons of Jewish history is that God is always on the side of the oppressed. Another is that those who dehumanise others, dehumanise themselves. Israelis will pay a heavy price for their callous mistreatment of Palestinians.”
R2K said on Wednesday: “The Right2Know campaign [Western Cape] is alarmed that the Labia Theatre has succumbed to pressure from the Zionist Federation and wants to cancel our joint screening of the film Roadmap to Apartheid planned for this Thursday.”
A screening of the film had previously been scheduled to take place in March at the same theatre as part of the BDS (Boycott, Sanction, Disinvest) campaign’s Israeli Apartheid Week, but was also cancelled. The film was still shown in Durban and Johannesburg.
Mark Weinberg of R2K explained that the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign had approached them to mediate after the March screening was cancelled.
“The three parties [R2k, PSC and the Labia Theatre] came to an agreement that the film would be screened on condition that it was framed in a broader freedom of expression context and mediated by R2K.”
The parties agreed in written correspondence that the screening would be followed by a panel discussion around issues raised by the film, and that R2K would invite representatives from both sides of the debate to take part. Based on this agreement, invitations were sent out and the screening was advertised.
The Zionist Federation was approached by R2K, but turned down the invitation, after which the Labia Theatre decided to cancel the screening.
In an email to Labia’s manager, Ludi Kraus, R2K requested that the theatre honour the agreement and suggested that, if they could not find an alternative pro-Israel voice for the panel, they would cancel the panel discussion and rather hold an open discussion after the screening, to “ensure a level playing field”. This suggestion was turned down.
Kraus denies R2K’s allegation that the theatre had bowed to pressure from Zionists, stating that the cancellation is “a business decision”.
“In March we also took a business decision, which was unanimously supported by our patrons. As a result, the PSC called for a boycott of the theatre.
“We are an apolitical venue, not a political forum. And 99% of our patrons fall into the other camp.”
He said that the film’s content had influenced his decision.
“We agreed to work with R2K on the strict condition that this unbalanced film would be followed by a balanced debate. We needed to be able to answer to our patrons.
“When the Zionist Federation refused to participate, this condition fell away.”
When asked whether another pro-Israel panelist could be considered, he replied: “The film is an onslaught on Israel, and so there needs to be Israeli representation. The Zionist Federation is Israel’s representation in South Africa.”
Julie Berman, director of the Zionist Federation’s Cape Council, explained the reasons they had refused to participate.
“We saw no value in the screening of the film. We felt it was not possible to generate intelligent discussion.
“Each panellist would have had three minutes to give their point of view. This is totally inadequate to discuss a film that is so heavily weighted towards one side.”
She denied that they had put any pressure on the theatre, and said the federation respected any decision the cinema made.
“It is not our place to intervene.”
R2K pointed out that the Labia had a long history of cooperation with civil society groups, and that its “proud history of being one of the few alternative cinemas in Cape Town will be muddied if they fail to stand up to those who wish to censor and suppress free expression and the right to know”.
Kraus said each case is “judged on its own merits”.
Martin Jansen of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign said that the decision of the Labia Theatre was “prejudicial”.
“This is a freedom of expression issue. The Labia has always been a bastion of alternative film and viewpoints. That the same cinema has banned a film, or made its screening conditional, is a big issue. It’s discriminatory.”
He suggested that the previous screening’s cancellation, which he described as a “purely commercial arrangement”, was also evidence of the theatre’s reluctance to work with pro-Palestinian groups.
When told of Klaus’s concerns that the documentary was a harsh and one-sided, Jansen said: “The reality for Palestinian people is harsh. You can’t refuse to show films that portray these harsh realities. Documentaries about apartheid in South Africa were harsh. Media coverage of Syria is harsh and one-sided. I don’t understand this at all.”
Weinberg said the controversial nature of the documentary should not have influenced Kraus’s decision.
“All perspectives need to be aired. If it is screened alongside an open discussion, it makes it even more important.”