Fonda backtracks on Toronto Festival protest

Jane Fonda has sort-of apologized for signing the so-called Toronto Declaration protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv and the work of 10 Israeli filmmakers.

But she insists on raising the old “you can’t criticize Israel without being called antisemitic” trope.

In a post on the Huffington Post blog yesterday, Fonda said she had signed the letter, which has been fiercely criticised by Hollywood luminaries such as Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen, “without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue”.

She continued: “In the hyper-sensitised reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.”
Yesterday the film-makers held a press conference refuting claims they advocated a boycott of the festival over the Tel Aviv focus. Speaking alongside Toronto film-maker John Greyson and Palestinian-Israeli director Elia Sulieman, among others, proponent Elle Flanders said the letter was not targeted at Israeli film-makers themselves, “but rather the frame”.

She said: “Our campaign was meant to begin the dialogue that TIFF missed out on – one that refuses the Israeli government’s attempt to shift attention away from the conflict that it maintains and worsens daily.”

Israeli film-maker Samuel Maoz, whose film Lebanon won the Golden Lion at Venice at the weekend, has been among the most vocal critics of Fonda’s decision. He told the Observer: “The point of a film like mine is to open a dialogue, to get people talking to each other about important issues. This is something you can’t do if films are boycotted. It makes no sense to boycott art. Maybe I wouldn’t have won if Jane Fonda was on the jury, but she wasn’t.”