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Emails show Clinton sought to counter Israeli film boycott

Then-secretary of state stepped in after protesters pressured Edinburgh Film Festival not to screen Israeli flick

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a party event in Virginia, June 26, 2015 (Paul J. Richards/AFP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a party event in Virginia, June 26, 2015 (Paul J. Richards/AFP)

As US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sought to counter a boycott campaign in 2009 that blocked the screening of an Israeli film at the Edinburgh Film Festival, as revealed by emails recently made available by the former secretary of state and presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

The boycott drive came after the Israeli government made a donation of £300 ($450) to organizers, a sum meant to cover the cost of sending Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom Ezer to the festival to screen her film “Surrogate.”

Clinton had apparently ordered her staff to find ways via the British and Scottish governments to defeat the boycott. Details of her intervention came to light when thousands of her emails were made public this year. The court decision to release the emails came after it after it was revealed that she had used a private email account to send state-related messages.

Pro-Palestinian boycott campaigners, including the prominent filmmaker Ken Loach, called on festival-goers to boycott the event in protest over the money paid by the Israeli government. Ultimately, the festival organizers returned the money and didn’t screen the film.

According to a report by The Scotsman, the boycott was brought to Clinton’s attention by her husband’s former college roommate Brian Greenspun, who had received a newspaper article about it from his brother-in-law, Hollywood lawyer Bruce Ramer.

“I hope you can enlist Hillary’s support (and please give her my personal best),” Ramer wrote in his email to Greenspun. “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 organizers of the festival must be convinced to reverse themselves.”

Greenspun forwarded the message to Clinton on May 24, 2009, and asked for her help.

“Hi Hillary, Please call me about this if you have a moment. The message is self-explanatory, apparently there is no american [sic] voice in place to speak out or lead on this issue so — there is no voice.”

Passing on the email to her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, adviser Andrew J Shapiro, and spokesperson Philippe Reines, Clinton included a message asking for ideas on what to do.

“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.”

Sullivan wrote back saying, “We will confer in the morning and come up with a plan.”

In a response on May 25, 2009, Hilary wrote back to Greenspun.

“Thanks for the heads up on this,” she wrote. “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 [sic].

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

It is unclear what, if any, practical action Clinton took in the end, or if she ever contacted officials in the British or Scottish government.

According to the report, the Edinburgh International Film Festival declined to comment on whether or not there had been pressure from US officials.

The Scottish government responded in a statement, saying, “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.”

On Tuesday, Clinton relented following months of demands that she relinquish the personal email server she used while serving as secretary of state, directing that the device be given to the Justice Department.

The decision advances the investigation into the Democratic presidential front-runner’s use of a private email account as the nation’s top diplomat, and whether classified information was improperly sent via and stored on the home-brew email server she ran from her house in suburban New York City.

Federal investigators have begun looking into the security of Clinton’s email setup amid concerns from the inspector general for the intelligence community that classified information may have passed through the system. There is no evidence she used encryption to shield the emails or her personal server from foreign intelligence services or other potentially prying eyes.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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