September 07, 2009

Protest the TIFF Celebration of Tel aviv

The Toronto Film Festival is hosting a special program curated by Cameroon Baily celebrating the city of Tel Aviv. After failing to convince the festival that assisting Israel’s “brand Israel” propaganda and whitewashing campaign was wrong, John Greyson withdrew his film “Covered” from the festival and made it available on-line instead.

Greyson’s protest soon spread to include an impressive list of artists and writers, and finally made through the dumbed-down media filter thanks to the signatures of Jane Fonda (Yes, the same Fonda who in 1982 cheered the IDF slaughter in Beirut, about which it might have been said, where the penitent stand the righteous cannot stand, if only an apology for that shameful performance were forthcoming) and Danny Glover. Their letter is here. Greyson wrote his own letter to the festival organizers emphasizing that his

protest isn't against the films or filmmakers you've chosen. I've seen brilliant works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past TIFFs, and will again in coming years. My protest is against the Spotlight itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a "vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic young city... commemorating its centennial"

Greyson's letter is worth reading in full. Greyson focuses on the unholy use of culture and art in the service of whitewashing Israel’s image after the recent massacre in Gaza.

In the Canadian Jewish News, Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described how this Spotlight is the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign, which includes bus/radio/TV ads, the ROM's notorious Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and "a major Israeli presence at next year¹s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissen said Toronto was chosen as a test-city for Brand Israel by Israel's Foreign Ministry, and thanked Astral, MIJO and Canwest for donating the million-dollar budget. (Astral is of course a long-time TIFF sponsor, and Canwest owners' Asper Foundation donated $500,000 to TIFF). "We've got a real product to sell to Canadians... The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said."

The curator, Baily, responded in an open letter with a palpable deer-in-the-headlights quality, assuring us that “There was no pressure from any outside source,” as if the fact that no pressure was needed to enlist him in the service of these powerful interests and their whitewashing campaign is an excuse, rather than more evidence of his careerist spinelessness. With Jane Fonda and Danny Glover signing, this letter probably has the highest public profile of any BDS action so far. Not surprisingly, the smear machine is in full gear. Rabbi Hier, the racist, anti African-American, anti-Palestinian, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is quoted in almost every report. The most widely circulated example of “journalism” comes from the celebrity press, with TMZ misquoting the boycott letter as saying that Tel Aviv was built on "thousands of destroyed Palestinian villages." But don’t be worried; misquoting a statement critical of Israel will never get a journalist in trouble.

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, operating from Toronto, calls for action and has a sample letter that you are kindly invited to customize and send to the festival organizers. PACBI issued its own statement, explaining why, even without any connection to “Brand Israel,” celebrating Tel Aviv today is testimony of incredible moral obtuseness.

To celebrate Tel Aviv or any Israeli city for that matter is indefensible, particularly after this year's lethal assault on Gaza, while Israel continues building its illegal Apartheid wall and settlements and extends its network of checkpoints that suffocate the Palestinian population. Most recently, in the Israeli war of aggression on the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinian civilians were massacred by Israel's indiscriminate bombing, condemned by UN experts and leading human rights organizations as war crimes. This assault left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5,380. The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were violently expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroyed scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians were taking shelter. This came after 18 months of an ongoing, crippling Israeli siege of Gaza, a severe form of collective punishment described by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights as "a prelude to genocide."

Such a celebration at this time, therefore, can only be seen by Palestinians and supporters of a just peace around the world as an act of complicity in whitewashing Israel's war crimes and other grave violations of international law. It is a cynical and immoral politicization of the TIFF. (PACBI, read the full statement)

Write your own letter and ask others to write as well. Tomorrow I’ll hopefully add a few more things on Tel-Aviv’s ethnically cleansed memory.


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