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Labia Theatre’s nine-year battle against anti-Israel film

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It’s been nine years since Labia Theatre owner Ludi Kraus was unwittingly caught up in a fight with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) over the screening at his theatre of a documentary which compares Israel to apartheid South Africa.

“This is a battle I didn’t choose,” he says in an exclusive interview with the SA Jewish Report. “I stood up for the rights of independent cinemas and in particular my theatre. It’s been enormously stressful, but I didn’t want my theatre to be used for an event that was central to something as divisive as the opening of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). So, I stuck with those principles.”

In a judgment delivered on 26 March 2021, Western Cape Judge Andre Le Grange of the Equality Court ruled that the Labia must screen the film The Roadmap to Apartheid within 60 days, and it was ordered to pay costs.

Kraus, who is Jewish, couldn’t at the time of going to press share how he and his legal team would respond to the judgment, but he recalled how it all started. “I received a request from a publishing company to rent a cinema on a Sunday afternoon. It was called, somewhat innocuously, Workers World Media Productions.

“An arrangement regarding the screening of the film was made, and I was told to send an invoice to the PSC. I was puzzled because I thought it was a South African movie linked to apartheid. The publishing company hadn’t mentioned the PSC at all. So I googled the film, and to my surprise, found that it was about comparing apartheid to Israel and the Palestinians. I didn’t feel comfortable showing the film, especially when I found out that the screening at the Labia was to be a central part of the opening of IAW in 2012.

“I was unhappy with the film and the event. I felt it wouldn’t be popular with the majority of my patrons, especially considering the hundreds of other venues that could be used to screen it instead. I phoned the publishing company, and told it that I didn’t want to proceed. Communication was initially polite. They were understanding, and said they would discuss it with their colleagues.

“The next thing, I was by accident sent some in-house emails that weren’t intended for me, in which one person said that they were happy to find an alternative venue, but others insisted that it be shown at the Labia, which would generate publicity for their cause.

“We were then subjected to emails, threats, boycotts, and pickets every Friday for a year. They got academics and the media involved. Meanwhile, the film was shown on UCT [the University of Cape Town] campus, and went on a national tour.

“They also got organisations to boycott us, and some of it did affect us. We were then approached by Right2Know (R2K), which said it was prepared to mediate. It culminated in our agreeing to a screening of the film on condition that the South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] be present to debate the film afterwards. We obviously wanted to try and have a balanced debate. But the SAZF pulled out. Because the condition hadn’t been met, we cancelled the screening, which led to a further outcry.

“That was followed by both the PSC and R2K lodging complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The SAHRC found in favour of us.

“Unbeknown to us though, the PSC and R2K then appealed the SAHRC decision without notifying us that they were doing so,” Kraus says. “This time, on appeal, the SAHRC overturned its initial decision, and found against us. The first we heard about the appeal ruling was a year after it had taken place. Yet, it’s a legal principle that you can’t rule against someone if you haven’t given them the opportunity to hear their side of the story, as was the case here.

“So, we took the SAHRC’s decision on review to the High Court, and we won that battle. But the Equality Court, in a separate matter brought by the PSC, ruled against us, ordering a screening of the film.”

Going forward, Kraus is most concerned about the ongoing funding of legal costs, especially if the case goes all the way to the Constitutional Court. The cinema has had a tough year financially as it was in lockdown for five months. It was then hit by the second wave during the holiday season – the only time it could have ‘caught up’. Having now fought two high court cases, it simply doesn’t have the resources to continue to fight with an appeal to the Supreme Court and then, if necessary, the Constitutional Court. Kraus says that even with his attorneys acting pro bono, the cost of driving these matters through the courts is still substantial for a small business.

“It’s a struggle. Many of our patrons are older people who aren’t ready to return to the cinema, even though we have COVID-19 safety protocols in place,” says Kraus. The cinema is hoping to draw a younger audience with more commercial titles. It has also launched a streaming service that is available anywhere in South Africa.

Kraus believes that the PSC and its supporters don’t care much about the actual screening of the film at the Labia anymore. “For them, all these years later, it’s more about the publicity that’s being generated over the issue,” he says.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Adele

    Apr 8, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    How absolutely despicable! Rudi, thank you for not bowing to their demands, I am a keen Labia fan

  2. John Scott

    Apr 9, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    A disgrace that a private and independent cinema company should be forced a screen a film it does not wish to screen. Even in the apartheid days this couldn’t have happened. The government then could order a film to be withdrawn from distribution, but never order one to be shown that the owner had no interest in. Though I support the judiciary fully and would defend it against attack from senior members of the ruling party, I believe the judgment in case is faulty and should be reversed on appeal.

  3. Evelyn Smit

    Apr 9, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    I cannot begin to get over just how disgusting the PSC is.
    Deliberately picking a theatre owned by a Jewish person and further knowing that most of the patronage Jewish.

  4. HOWARD JOFFE

    Apr 14, 2021 at 10:34 pm

    I understand that the Labia Cinema is a privately owned business. That anybody has the audacity to suggest what must or must not be screened, is beyond belief. I fail to understand how our courts can mediate over this issue. The rights of the court and the rights of the business owner Ludi Kraus should not be so undefined as they appear to be in 2021 South Africa. What has happened to our democracy ? Surely the only person who ought direct how the business operation should be conducted, is that of the owner or his general manager.
    In short, I am shocked to read of the political interference by the PSC. THE PSC have their agenda. Given that Kraus has no part to play in how they the PSC run their organization, so too must the reverse apply.
    Methinks everybody in this saga should have a rethink. I back Ludi Kraus all the way.

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