Hillary Clinton weighed into Edinburgh film festival row

Hillary Clinton emailed her deputy chief of staff and senior adviser over the film festival boycott. Picture: GettyHillary Clinton emailed her deputy chief of staff and senior adviser over the film festival boycott. Picture: Getty
Hillary Clinton emailed her deputy chief of staff and senior adviser over the film festival boycott. Picture: Getty
HILLARY Clinton sought to put pressure on the Scottish and UK Governments to oppose a highly controversial boycott of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, newly released emails reveal.

The powerful US politician attempted to intervene in a row over a £300 donation made to the festival from the Israeli Government.

The donation provoked an outcry from pro-Palestinian organisations and the film director Ken Loach – an outspoken opponent of Israel’s policies in Lebanon and Gaza.

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Mr Loach urged film-goers to boycott the event and the pressure exerted by campaigners led to the festival returning the money to the Israeli Government.

The grant was intended to enable Tali Shalom Ezer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, to travel to Scotland for a screening of her film, Surrogate, in 2009.

The return of the money led to an equally ferocious backlash from those who disagreed with Mr Loach’s view.

Jeremy Isaacs, the former chief executive of Channel Four, said the festival organisers were guilty of an “appalling decision” and described Mr Loach’s stance as an act of censorship because it was denying a film maker the right to show her work.

Today the Scotsman can reveal that the row went right to the upper echelons of the American political system with Mrs Clinton suggesting pressure could be exerted on the Scottish Government and the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to get the festival to reverse its decision.

The controversy was brought to the attention of Mrs Clinton by newspaper publisher Brian Greenspun, a college roommate of Bill Clinton, who forwarded a newspaper article on the boycott to the then US Secretary of State.

According to emails from her personal account released by the US Department of State, the article had originally been emailed to Mr Greenspun by Bruce Ramer, an entertainment lawyer and former president of the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group.

The emails were released amid controversy about Mrs Clinton’s use of private email accounts while she was Secretary of State.

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In his email, Mr Ramer wrote to Mr Greenspun: “I hope you can enlist Hilary’s support (and please give her my personal best). We need, for many reasons, to have the US protest and condemn this outrageous boycott and to oppose the anti-Semitism inherent in it. The organisers of the festival must be convinced to reverse themselves.”

After Mr Ramer’s email was forwarded to Mrs Clinton’s private email account, on May 25 2009 the then Secretary of State responded: “Thanks for the headsup on this. We are working to decide the most effective way forward, and I’ll keep you informed. We have some good ideas as to what our govt can do, but we also want to see pressure from local people brought on the British and Scottish govts. 

“Can you and Bruce reach out to the community in London and Edinburgh to urge them to raise this w PM Brown and other govt officials? We’d like to see top down and bottom up pressure. Let me know what you think.”

Mrs Clinton, who is now a front-runner for the Democrat nomination in the US presidential elections, Cc’d the email to her deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan, Andrew J Shapiro, a senior adviser to Clinton who would soon become assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, and her spokesperson Philippe Reines.

In an email sent to the three the previous night, Mr Clinton wrote: “Pls read Brian’s message and all the email traffic below. What can we do about this? Let me know if you have ideas. Thx.” 

Mr Sullivan responded: “We will confer in the morning and come up with a plan.”

Mrs Clinton’s emails came as a result of a row over her use of her personal email account while she was Secretary of State.

Her opponents have criticised the use of the private account instead of an official State Department one, claiming it gave her and her aides more control over email records.

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A court order has seen batches of Mrs Clinton’s emails released into the public domain.

Patrick Harvie MSP Co-Convenor, of the Scottish Green Party criticised Clinton’s intervention.

He said: “Cultural boycotts are not censorship - they have an important role to play in expressing global political opposition to the illegal occupation of Palestine and the treatment of its people. The importance of such action is made all the clearer when we see that the US has been acting behind the scenes to pressurise other countries to interfere on behalf of the Israeli Government.”

Mr Loach is currently working on a film and was unavailable to comment, but a spokesperson said he is a supporter of the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel. In 2009, Loach said that ‘massacres and state terrorism in Gaza’ made the festival’s acceptance of Israel’s money unacceptable.

Asked if they had received any pressure from the US government or Hillary Clinton over the boycott, the Edinburgh International Film Festival declined to comment.

The Scottish Government last night said it had not put any pressure on the festival in a bid to get it to change its stance, saying it respected the organisers’ independence.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Edinburgh International Film Festival is supported by Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government through the Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. We respect the independence of the festivals and any decisions on funding and other earned income is for the Edinburgh International Film festival. Their reasons for returning this money were well documented at the time.”