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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Hollywood Jews: Toronto film fest protest against Israel a 'blacklist'

Someone always causes a ruckus at the Toronto film festival. But this year even the reliably controversy-stirring Michael Moore has had to take a back seat to the uproar over a protest letter, signed by a variety of showbiz dignitaries, claiming that Toronto's embrace of a sister city program with Tel Aviv was a "celebration" of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, charging the festival with being complicit "in the Israeli propaganda machine." The letter was signed by such prominent artists as David Byrne, Julie Christie, Ken Loach, Wallace Shawn and Jane Fonda (who's now taking some baby steps backing away from some of the letter's more heated accusations).  

Tiff2009 The protest was sparked by the Canadian documentary filmmaker John Greyson, who pulled his film from the festival, decrying the festival's spotlight on Tel Aviv, which he called -- quoting Naomi Klein -- "the smiling face of Israeli apartheid." There have been a variety of counter-protests, but the biggest one arrives Thursday in the form of a full-page ad in Variety, signed by more than a hundred, mostly Jewish Hollywood filmmakers, actors, writers, producers and executives.

Titled "We Don't Need Another Blacklist," the ad applauds the festival for including the Israeli film community in its City to City program. It says the filmmakers of Israel represent the best of open and uncensored artistic expression that are "in no way a propaganda arm" for government policy. It goes on to add: "Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect. Those who refuse to see these films for themselves or prevent them from being seen by others are violating a cherished right shared by Canada and all democratic countries."

The group of signatures supporting the ad's declaration include a who's who of Hollywood, including Jerry Seinfeld, Seth Rogen, Robert Duvall, Halle Berry, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Zwick, Jason Alexander, Chazz Palminteri and David Cronenberg, along with a host of top producers and executives like Ron Meyer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing, Neal Moritz, Jonathan Glickman, Nina Jacobson, Darron Star, Nathan Kahane and Gail Berman. (Writer-director signatory Michael Tolkin gets credit for a polish on the shaping of the ad's language.)

Dan Adler, an L.A. based entrepreneur and former CAA executive, was one of the driving forces behind the ad, which is officially sponsored by Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the UJA Federation of Toronto. "We all spent a lot of time talking about the original protest letter, in the sense that it seemed to be going after the wrong target by attacking Israel and its film artists," said Adler. "When I sat down at my computer and started asking for people to sign on, all I got was passion and enthusiasm. Everyone said, 'I'm in,' and then, even better, added, 'Can I get you someone else?' "

I'm not a big fan of political action letter writing and protest ads, since as Fonda proves in her painfully awkward "restatement" of her position, too many celebrities either go whichever direction the wind is blowing or have no real grasp of the complexity of political issues in the first place. Israel's role in the mess in the Middle East is, for example, far too endlessly complicated to be accurately captured in a protest letter or counter-protest ad. But I think this ad strikes the right chord, since as Adler puts it: "This was a cut and dried issue -- it's important to stand up for the rights of artists, wherever they are, especially in the film community of Israel which has been a beacon of open, often critical free expression." 

Previously: Israel gets a punch in the schnoz from Toronto film fest protesters

Comments () | Archives (14)

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the zionists are being extraordinarily dishonest, as they usually are. besides apologizing to those protesting the celebration of israel for smearing them as blacklisters, they should also apologize to actual victims of blacklisting for trivializing their ordeal with this foolish comparison.

I'm sorry, you've lost me. How does the petition in question attack Israel's "film artists"? It's clearly admonishing the Israeli government and the organizers of TIFF, while openly stating that Israeli film makers should be welcome at the festival. It appears to be about the idea of the spotlight itself, not about the films in it. It's becoming bewildering, this misunderstanding of the protest. Many in the press are saying the signatories are calling for a "boycott" or that they're "blacklisting" Israeli films. Absolute nonsense. Read the letter.
Also, it seems the "rights of artists wherever they are" are actually being ignored by the festival organizers themselves. Even though the fest program celebrates the wonderful "diversity" of Tel Aviv, all the films in the spotlight are by Jewish filmmakers. And it's not because Palestinian films from Tel Aviv aren't good enough to get in; there's at least one such film at TIFF this year.
But the spotlight itself seems to be avoiding diversity. Strange.
Anyway, if your going to pay out for the full page adds, don't misrepresent the protest you're opposing. Seems silly to me.

Critics of the filmmakers who have protested the festivals' funding continue to conflate the product with the means, deliberately misinterpreting their reason for dissent. It is not the Israeli films or filmmakers the protesters are taking issue with, but acceptance of Israeli money and programming influence at a time when the state of Israel is attempting to divert attention from grossly inhumane practices they condone:

A full-page ad in a trade publication praising Israeli freedom and bemoaning the creation of a blacklist misses the point. Jewish-Israelis may be free, but millions of Palestinians live under a brutal military occupation. Arab-Israelis are treated like African-Americans were treated in the South during the Jim Crow era.

The practice of stealing Arab land to build colonies for Jewish-Israelis only is racist. I prefer the term Apartheid precisely because it is so offensive.

I urge those who complain about the terminology to work to end the practice of stealing Arab land to build Jewish-Israeli only colonies rather than pretend that such practices are not racist. (Starting with the people who signed the ad.)

Also, the hypocrisy is that many of those who oppose boycotting Israel are the first to demand a boycott of Iran.

The Toronto Declaration a "blacklist"? Nonsense.

the crowning glory of cultures of the people of the book is that they demand exclusivity with a condemnation of anyone not within the fold. one may not criticise them without being branded as intolerant or bigoted or anti-them. it seems it is about building walls always--whether they are gated communities in western countries or security walls in the middle east. i cannot imagine that anyone can deny the separation by religion/ethnicity that exists in israel, tel aviv itself is a divided city.

quickly they fling words like blacklist to deflect any discussion or alternative view. they did not make a rational rebuttal to greyson's seemingly honest protest. instead, there is a ugly name which does not relate to anything greyson was doing.

in the manipulation of public opinion, theatre becomes reality as a self serving political mafia stiffles debate.

opera lover - No, they are not all by Jewish filmmakers, so nice try. And this is absolutely an attack against film artists, as they are individual artists with different views, not the government. Therefore, I would definitely consider this discrimination, on par with places in the world that say, "no entrance for Israelis - Dogs allowed."

Ira - Just the fact that you're using the term "Zionists" like it's some barbarian beasts shows that you are extremely ignorant and hateful.

Goldstein and K - you've lost me. How can this be an attack against individual Israeli filmmakers when Naomi Klein never protested their participation.
The Israeli filmmakers were welcome.
The problem is politicizing TIFF by celebrating a city that is emblematic of racial discrimination.

"It's becoming bewildering, this misunderstanding of the protest."

Indeed. In fact, one wonders if the misunderstanding is intentional. Because it's really very simple: Israel, suffering the blowback from images of white phosophorus falling on the civilians of Gaza, decided that Toronto would be a test city for a promotion campaign aimed at changing perceptions of the Jewish state.

The protest is over the Israeli government's attempt to turn the festival into a propaganda campaign.

What kind of garbage journalism is this? None of the Toronto Declaration signatories have called for a boycott of Israel, Israeli directors, or Israeli films. They merely signed a statement officially registering their displeasure with TIFF's decision to uncritically celebrate Tel Aviv at a time when Israel has been involved in particularly awful human rights abuses. The entire argument of Seinfeld, Rogen, "Borat" and company is bogus, since nobody is calling for boycotts or "blacklists". Of course, if you don't have a real argument to make (i.e. defending how wonderful Israel is) then you have to set up a straw man and attack it. Shame on Patrick Goldstein for this misleading, mendacious piece of "journalism".

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