Revolution #177, September 27, 2009
“Re-Branding” Israeli Occupation at the Toronto International Film Festival
The annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the most important film events in the world. For ten days, thousands of filmmakers, writers, actors, critics and others mix it up in a spectacular display of some of the best films in the world from both new and well established filmmakers.
This year, the festival featured Michael Moore’s latest work, Capitalism: A Love Story, and other controversial films. But the hottest topic and fiercest debate was not over a movie, but over Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine and the war crimes and crimes against humanity Israel has unleashed against the Palestinian people. The organizers of the film festival decided to feature a celebration of Tel Aviv, the capital city of Israel, as one of the thematic centerpieces of the festival. In a breath of fresh air felt around the world, more than 1500 filmmakers, artists, writers and others in the film industry and beyond shouted NO!—signing an open letter to the festival titled, “The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation.” Signers include Eve Ensler, Danny Glover, Wallace Shawn, Jane Fonda, Howard Zinn, Jeremy Pikser, Viggo Mortensen, David Byrne, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, and Naomi Klein among many others from all over the world. [torontodeclaration.blogspot.com/2009/09/toronto-declaration-no-celebration-of.html]
The organizers of TIFF had arranged the celebration of Tel Aviv as the inaugural event of the new City-to-City Spotlight program as a regular feature of the festival each year. Festival organizers said that the idea was simply to spotlight the diversity and vibrancy of Tel Aviv by showcasing ten films from filmmakers based in the city. In their statement the artists revealed that the City to City program was part of a million dollar PR campaign called “Brand Israel.” This campaign aims to take worldwide focus off of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the Palestinian people through war and crimes against humanity and refocus attention on the achievements of Israel in science, medicine and the arts. And the statement went on to denounce TIFF complicity in Israel’s propaganda machine. On September 16, the mayor of Tel Aviv confirmed the involvement of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and “Brand Israel” in the celebration of Tel Aviv at the festival.
Defenders of Israel—from pro-Israel actors and directors to Jewish religious figures and Christian fascists—attacked the statement and slandered its signers, calling them “Jew haters,” “anti-Semites” and “terrorists.” And, in an effort to sow massive confusion, these defenders of Israel have consciously distorted the content of the Open Letter, claiming it calls for banning and silencing films and artists from Israel.
The Open Letter is clear: “We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF.” And, in a statement issued on September 16, the artists pointed out the irony of them being falsely accused of advocating censorship while they have been unable to find even one newspaper willing to publish their “Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation” open letter to the TIFF.
This September 16 statement reiterated, “We are protesting because we could not stand idly by as Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s economic and military power, was being celebrated as if this was an apolitical decision. Palestinians in Gaza continue to live under a brutal Israeli siege that has turned Gaza into what countless observers have described as an open-air prison, with access even to food and medicine greatly restricted. We protested the spotlight to call attention to a humanitarian emergency and an ongoing crime.”
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