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