Toronto International Film Festival – a JVP update
With the ending of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past week, another stage for the struggles over Israeli-Palestinian narratives has closed, for now, at least. The Toronto Declaration, the protest letter signed by more than 1500 filmmakers, artists and other culture producers, succeeded in drawing attention to the Israel government’s “Brand Israel” program, a deliberate effort to deploy Israeli arts and culture into the ‘winning hearts and minds’ front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the protesters were widely condemned by Jewish leaders, among others, their message — that they were protesting the Festival’s collaboration with “Brand Israel” and not Israeli films — did get through to some. Roger Ebert, the film critic, changed his mind after initially criticizing the protesters. Ebert wrote: “I thought of [the Festival’s decision to showcase Tel Aviv] as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to “re-brand”
Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this.”
The signers of the Toronto Declaration were accused of many things, including blacklisting Israeli filmmakers and calling for a boycott of them, delegitimizing the city of Tel Aviv, and even calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. (Jewish Voice for Peace conveniently collected these accusations onto one page, which is hosted here.) I want to add to Jewish Peace News’ reporting on the TIFF controversy by posting the following two responses to the accusations made against the signers of the Toronto Declaration:
1) A letter in support of Jane Fonda from Atlanta Jews “Atlanta Jews Reject Vilification and Stand Up for Jane Fonda”
[Addendum: Jane Fonda wrote her own statement clarifying her position on the issues raised in the Toronto Declaration. It’s important to note that while she criticizes certain parts of the statement, she chose to keep her name signed onto it. You can read her full statement here]
2) Udi Aloni, “Seinfeld, you were wrong to condemn our Toronto protest”
Letter from Atlanta Jews
The extremist accusations made against the Toronto Declaration signatories aren’t just empty talk but have real consequences in people’s lives. After the accusations – including one by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said that “the Toronto Declaration was “nothing less than a call for the complete destruction of the Jewish state” – started to make their way around inboxes and media outlets, word got out that the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevent, or GCAPP, Jane Fonda’s excellent Atlanta-based non-profit, might face repercussions. A number of prominent Jewish people in Atlanta spoke out in defense of Jane Fonda, her long relationship with Israel and important social justice work in Atlanta and beyond. The signers include prominent rabbis, a past president of the Jewish Federation, a member of the National Board of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and others. Their statement was published on the Huffington Post and picked up by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency twice (here and here). It was published in this week’s edition of the Atlanta Jewish Times.
In their statement, the Atlanta Jews focused on the need for open conversation about the state of Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians. They emphasized that a person need not disagree with TIFF’s decision to spotlight Tel Aviv or agree with the Toronto Declaration in order to absolutely oppose the “misrepresentations and accusations leveled against Jane Fonda” and the other signers. They say that “the claim that Fonda seeks Israel’s destruction is shameless slander, pure and simple, and lobbing such an accusation makes it nearly impossible to hold an honest conversation about the present and future of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”
They defended the Toronto protesters’ message that “ignoring one side’s experience, no matter which side that is, is a surefire recipe for ongoing fighting and conflict. Not everyone agrees with that approach, but it’s a valid one that aims for a just peace for all parties in the region.”
This letter comes from the heart of mainstream Jewry and represents yet another opening in how American Jews talk about and relate to the state of Israel. It shows the willingness of this small group of people to defend an unpopular action and speak out on the very combustible issue of Israel, exposing themselves to condemnation and reproach from friends, family, community members and others. By taking a public stand against the demonizing of critics of the Israeli government, the signers of this letter have created more public space for holding real, honest conversations about Israel.
Udi Aloni’s letter
In his response to the counter-declaration signed by Jerry Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman, among others, Udi Aloni reiterates the points he has made before, challenging Israeli artists to refuse cooperation with “the Israeli propaganda machine,” to refuse to be ambassadors for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and noting that the directors of “Waltz with Bashir” and the new international hit, “Lebanon,” have yet to speak out against the occupation or address their Palestinian victims in Lebanon.
The ongoing suffering of and assaults against Palestinian is where we should be looking. Aloni explains, “I am against all forms of boycott against arts, regardless of the political view it conveys, but it is my right to protest against the cynical use of artists, us in Israel and you, the Jewish-American artists. If it is real love of Israel which is in your hearts, please help us end the occupation, advise us on reaching a worldwide audience, correct us if you think we are overdoing it at times, but don’t cooperate with the occupation itself.”
On the eve of Yom Kippur, I wish for all of us – JPN readers, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Palestinians – to be written and sealed in the Book of Life, and may our commitments to justice, human rights and peace bear fruit beyond our wildest and most positive dreams in the coming year.
Sarah Anne Minkin