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Film festival counter protest heats up

TORONTO (JTA) — A prominent list of celebrities is opposing a group that has criticized the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv.

Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Alexander and Lenny Kravitz are among those endorsing a statement against what they call the "blacklisting" of Israeli artists at the TIFF, which runs through Sept. 19. The list was presented Tuesday by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Titled "We don’t need another blacklist," the statement applauds the festival’s decision to spotlight Tel Aviv in the program’s inaugural City to City series. The original protesters did not call for a blacklist of Israeli artists at the festival, objecting only to the focus on Tel Aviv while ignoring the "brutal occupation" by Israel.

Visiting Israeli filmmakers "represent a dynamic national cinema, the best of Israel’s open, uncensored, artistic expression. Anyone who has actually seen recent Israeli cinema …  knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for any government policy," the statement said.

It adds that "blacklisting [the artists] 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."

Filmmakers Ivan Reitman, David Cronenberg and Norman Jewison issued statements last week attacking those who had criticized the festival for highlighting films from Tel Aviv.

"The attack on TIFF is a vile attempt by a gang of fashionable bigots to use coercive tactics to stifle voices they don’t like," said Canadian filmmaker Robert Lantos. "These are not crusaders for justice."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he was "outraged" by the protest against Tel Aviv.

The counter protest, now signed by about 100 artists, is in response to the so-called Toronto Declaration signed by more than 1,000 prominent filmmakers, actors and academics — including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Julie Christie and Alice Walker — protesting that by showcasing movies from Tel Aviv, the festival, "whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine."

The anti-Tel Aviv group had said it had nothing against the 10 individual filmmakers from Israel attending the festival or the screening of their movies. Rather, "we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of … an apartheid regime."
 

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