Israel/Palestine,  Media

It never ends

What does it tell us about the anti-Israel campaigners that film festivals have become one of their favorite targets?

The Globe and Mail reports:

An international group of more than 50 prominent filmmakers, writers, artists and academics – including Ken Loach, David Byrne, Naomi Klein, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Wallace Shawn and Danny Glover – has signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv and the work of 10 Israeli filmmakers.

The letter is to be published online Thursday, with a call for additional signatories.

“As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by [TIFF’s] decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv,” the letter begins. “We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”

The letter, coming on the virtual eve of the festival’s 34th edition, follows Canadian filmmaker John Greyson’s decision last week to pull his short documentary, Covered, from the TIFF lineup to protest the festival’s decision to launch its new City to City program by focusing on Tel Aviv.

“We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City,” the new letter states. “Nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However … we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of … an apartheid regime.”
Many of the voices protesting TIFF’s focus on Tel Aviv are part of a wider campaign, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Among them is Toronto writer and political activist Naomi Klein who said Wednesday that it “strains credulity” to think that TIFF’s decision to spotlight Tel Aviv was not connected to the Israeli PR campaign. Such a programming decision “feeds Israel’s foreign policy goals and presents Israeli society as more diverse and open than it actually is,” she said.

A more nuanced position perhaps was voiced by Berkeley filmmaker Deborah Kaufman, who said in an e-mail statement that while the Brand Israel campaign “blurs the line between public relations and crass propaganda,” the City to City program included Assi Dayan’s brilliant Life According to Agfa, “which I see as an attack on the entire Zionist enterprise, and Eytan Fox’s The Bubble, a provocative fantasia on failed dreams,” films that allow “audiences to make their own judgments about Israeli politics.”

According to the pretentiously-named Toronto Declaration:

Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

I saw “Life According to Agfa” in Israel, where it was quite popular, and while I wouldn’t call it brilliant or an attack on the Zionist enterprise, I defy anyone who sees it to claim it rhapsodizes about much of anything.

And then there was this ridiculous remark from one of the film festival organizers:

Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey last week expressed disappointment about the festival boycott over the Tel Aviv spotlight, and insisted the sidebar was programmed independent of the Israeli government.

In an open letter posted on the Toronto festival website, Bailey defended the “City to City” focus he programmed

“We recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground,” he wrote.

But Bailey also defended the festival curatorial independence: “There was no pressure from any outside source. Contrary to rumors or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions.”

Tel Aviv, at the heart of pre-1967 Israel, is “contested ground”? Contested by whom– other than those who think Israel has no right to exist?

(Hat tip: modernity)