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Israel & Toronto Film Festival

Israel & Toronto Film Festival

Boycotting Israeli films is just the beginning.


This is the first year for the Toronto International Film Festival's City to City Spotlight. Because it is Tel Aviv's 100th anniversary, the Israeli city was chosen as the focus for the spotlight -- a 10-movie program that TIFF's website promises will "explore the evolving urban experience while presenting the best documentary and fiction films from and about a selected city."

As might have been expected, the usual suspects are deploring TIFF's spotlight on Tel Aviv, complaining the "uncritical celebration" of the city is like "celebrating Montgomery (Alabama) buses in 1963" or "South African fruit in 1991." These comparisons are fallacious and inflammatory; seeing artists and writers turn on their colleagues in this way brings back memories of the McCarthy era, when filmmakers denounced and betrayed others from the industry to silence them for political reasons.

Tel Aviv can indeed be highlighted as a beautiful city by the ocean, founded near Jaffa a century ago by idealists who dreamed of Jews being accepted as just another nation among nations. Secular and diverse, Tel Aviv is a success story. Comparisons of Tel Aviv to Jim Crow Alabama and apartheid South Africa are odious slanders.

Israel is the only state in the Middle East where films are made freely and without censorship.

Ironically, Israel is the only state in the Middle East where films are made freely and without censorship of any sort. Its film industry benefits Israelis of all racial and religious backgrounds. It is the only country in the region where a film festival like the Toronto Film Festival could be held.

Israel is embattled but free; the rule of law applies and people can speak their minds regardless of what they have to say. It is disturbing to see people from an industry that values and requires freedom of expression trying to silence their colleagues and to politicize Toronto's internationally acclaimed film festival. Those complaining are small-minded people, living far away, jumping on the bandwagon with those who demonize Israel for a quick fix of media attention.

But why does this otherwise small story matter? After all, the TIFF is going ahead and apart from a brief media flurry, little seems to have been accomplished by the attempted boycott.

It matters because this incident reflects a larger reality, a reality of revived anti-Semitism. Boycotting Israeli films is now respectable enough that an Oscar-winning actress and over 50 others have publicly signed a protest letter. From college campuses that were once, but are no longer, friendly to Jews, to newspapers that spout vile nonsense about Israeli theft of bodily organs, old-fashioned Jew hatred is on the march in this country and worldwide.

We urge all Torontonians to resist this latest call for a boycott, the way they responded to the misguided attempts to boycott Israeli wines and the outstanding exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Indeed we must speak out forcefully to resist all forms of anti-Semitic propaganda and to recognize it for what it is. The demonization of Israel is part of the rebirth of anti-Semitism that inevitably leads to violence and hate crimes, and Canada is not immune.

We call on community leaders of all backgrounds to speak up. Sadly, we know what silence can bring.

This article originally appeared in the National Post

September 12, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Rafi, December 13, 2010 6:02 PM

The Ruke Of Law in Israel is PRECISELY what bothers anti-Semites

Of course we value the Rule of Law. Jewish life is based on law. The entire free world has adopted various systems of living under laws, adn has recognized that this is essential to survival. People who hate Jews and Israel know that all societies that live under the RuleofLaw derive their durability from that system. For that reason Israel's survival sticks int their throat.

(13) Scott, September 21, 2009 2:13 AM

Cant' get worked up about these things

I live in San Francisco where-outside the more conservative Jewish community or the fundamentalist christian community-everyone seems pro-palestinean. We hear about apartheid and how gaza is an open air concentration camp and all that good stuff. These slights to our community simply highlight the reason why we need Israel. Other than the fact that it was a gift from G*d and our birthright it is truly the only place in the world where it's truly okay to be a Jew. Not always easy or safe to be a Jew...but okay to celebrate our faith and heritage without apology (except to other Jews-but that's an internal matter.) I took a class from a teacher who said that Hitler’s problem with the Jews was about our commitment at Sinai. He hated the idea that there were these people in the world whose ultimate loyalty was to a G*d and a system of morality outside the secular world. A group of people to which he could not dictate right and wrong. The instructor had some writing from an associate of Hitler that supported this teaching. Once Hitler finished off the Jews, I’m sure the devout christians were next. It's that not (most of) these people (the boycotters) hate Israel or Jews...most non-arab pro-palestineans simply hate the idea of feeling allied to any religion or country or true ideal. Their problem with Jews and Israel was the same as Hitler’s. In some ways I think these people are more dangerous than a Hitler. Their assault is not physical, but moral-I always find moreal challenges much harder to identify and fight. These so called human rights folks with their assault on all things particularistic change society itself. They remove ideas of right and wrong and sooner or later we might be left with nothing.

(12) samuel, September 16, 2009 2:28 AM

The Christian world does not know

It seems nobody cries foul when Israel as a nation and a legitimate member of the body of nations (UN) is being racially singled out, boycotted, banned and ostracised from and in any international gathering and competition. The reason behind is obvious, anti-Israel works from behind the scene using bribes to control decisions of proper authorities to vote out against Israel. They also use oil as a leverage to control the outcoome of their agreement. I hope the world is made aware of this such a thing.

(11) Chaya, September 14, 2009 6:50 AM

Just exactly where do you think you'll go after OUR Kristallnact? Right now, today, in the United Kingdom produce imported from Israel must wear identifying marks so they can be boycotted. Shops and businessmen who sell Israeli goods are identified on the internet as those ‘good citizens’ should avoid. How long can we ignore the fact that the ideas of these vocal anti-Semitic groups contributed to the brutal kidnap and torture of young Jewish Ilan Halimi for three (3!) long weeks—RIGHT IN PARIS--without a single person in that crowded neighborhood coming to his aid? Do you seriously think that those who demand Israeli oranges be marked don't wish the Jewish people were marked as well? Don’t you know that limiting Jewish activities was the first ring of the death knell for 6,250,000 Jews? Will it take our wearing “Juden” arm bands before we are reminded that the popular NAZI party started Hitler's highly effective campaign to annihilate us with boycotts of Jewish interests and businesses? Wake up! This isn’t about films or the arts (as if winning a prize at a festival that excluded the art of an entire nation would be something to brag about), it’s about Jew hating. Calling it “Israel” or “Israeli” is nothing more than a red herring meant to divert the attention of otherwise ‘reasonable’ people from the real issue at hand—murderous anti-Antisemitism is alive and growing more powerful daily.

(10) Sam, September 14, 2009 5:38 AM

TIFF is just a symptom of what's going on in the Western world

Being based in Toronto, we are seeing Israel being attacked just "because". The demonization of Israel is a close step to demonizing all Jews.
The leader of this latest attack is a maker of Gay topic films who withdrew his film in protest. The story on the "Now Magazine" blog was that because he did a film on Gay rights being silenced by Muslims in Bosnia, TIFF quietly asked him to withdraw for fear of protests and he turned it into an opportunity to bash Israel/Jews who have a fairly high profile at the Festival.
The reality is that so-called non-Zionist Jews are also leading the charge. How can a Jew say they are against Israel and still claim to be a Jew? Every page of every prayer book refers to either Israel, Tzion or Jerusalem. How can you separate the land from the people and the religion? I can point to DNA testing that allows Cohanim to trace their lineage back to Aharon. People who adopt a Western/Christian view of Judiasm as a narrowly practiced religion, don't understand their own roots.
This scares me in that it seem like 1938 all over again.
You can change your name or try to assimilate but it won't help you.

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