Arabs boycott Spielberg after donation to Israel, Wikileaks


Steven Spielberg was blacklisted by the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office after making a $1m (£645m) donation to Israel during the 2006 conflict in Lebanon.

A US embassy memo released by WikiLeaks reveals that during a meeting of the group in April 2007, diplomats or representatives from 14 Arab states voted to ban all films and other products related to Spielberg or his Righteous Persons Foundation.

At the confidential US briefing, the head of the Syrian regional office for the boycott of Israel, Muhammad al-Ajami, said that Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen had agreed to ban all Spielberg’s works.

Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia were also present at the meeting and voted in favor of the boycott. The memo from the US embassy in Damascus to Washington says that “they and other countries will likely implement their own bans” similar to that adopted by the Arab states.

At the same meeting, cosmetics giant Estée Lauder was added to the blacklist while financial services behemoth Merrill Lynch was placed on a “watchlist”.

The only Arab states which did not attend the meeting were those who have signed separate peace accords with Israel, namely, Egypt (which also has a thriving film industry and holds the annual Cairo film festival), Mauritania and Jordan. Djibouti and Somalia were not present at the meeting either.

Marvin Levy, spokesman for Steven Spielberg, said: “While we can’t comment on a leaked cable, we know that the films and DVDs have been sold globally in the normal distribution through all this time.”

But Chris Doyle at the Council for Arab-British Understanding said the boycott was an “understandable” reaction to Spielberg’s donation.

“It would be consistent with other decisions in the past over boycotting both companies and people who have done something equivalent,” he said. “The donation would have been seen as hypocritical, given the ethical stance Steven Spielberg has taken on other issues including Darfur, and would have caused a lot of anger.

“The depiction of Arabs in Raiders of the Lost Ark was very poor, cartoon-like and full of the usual stereotypes,” he added. “In a broader context, this applies to so many Hollywood films where Arabs for decades have been ludicrously depicted.”

The Arab League boycott is a systematic, pro-Palestinian effort by Arab League member states to economically isolate Israel and weaken the country’s economic and military strength.

Israeli boycotts by the League are, however, inconsistently enforced across the member states, with individual states often going their own way. Only Lebanon and Syria now adhere to it stringently.

Steven Spielberg set up the Righteous Persons Foundation in 1994. Using his personal profits from the film Schindler’s List and, later, Munich, the Foundation is dedicated to helping create a strong Jewish community in the United States. Guardian