Toronto, the counter-attack, or Sex, Lies and JVP


Danielle Berrin, the "Hollywood Jew" blogger at the Jewish Journal rounds up a number of efforts underway to counter the artists, actors directors, writers and other luminaries berating the Toronto Film Festival for celebrating Tel Aviv’s centennial.

One such effort, according to Berrin, is an ad to be placed by Toronto’s Jewish federation in the Toronto Globe and Mail, entitled, "We don’t need another blacklist," and "Natalie Portman, producer Howard Gordon, manager/producer Guy Oseary and Gail Berman, former president of entertainment at FOX" are all rumored to be signatories.

Berrin also quotes  The Hollywood Reporter citing opposition to the "Toronto Declaration" petition from Canadian directors-gone-Hollywood Ivan Reitman, David Cronenberg and Norman Jewison. Reitman and Cronenberg are Jewish, Jewison — who directed Fiddler on the Roof — is not. He says the letter "smacks of anti-Semitic bigotry."

Cronenberg’s an interesting counterprotester; his most recent success is "A History of Violence" (2005), which starred Viggo Mortensen, who just signed onto the Toronto Declaration — in part to protest the attacks on other signatories. (Scroll down to find the entry.)

There’s also a statement from Minnie Driver decrying those who presume to decide "whose stories can and cannot be told" and a long letter from indie producer Thomas Barad, ("Open Window," 2006, which won three film festival awards). Barad is seeking signatories to his comprehensive deconstruction of the "Toronto Declaration."

Reading Berrin’s blog led me to root around The Hollywood Reporter for more recent info (her most recent post was on Sunday.)  I found this: On Monday, L.A.’s Federation released a list of Hollywood luminaries who are opposed to the "Toronto Declaration," "led by CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Spyglass Entertainment president Jonathan Glickman, Jerry Seinfeld and Lenny Kravitz."

In an earlier post, Berrin notes that, through the Hollywood Reporter, Canadian documentarian (and, we might add, Ethiopian Jewry advocate) Simcha Jacobivici challenged John Greyson, the gay documentarian who launched the "Toronto Declaration" when he withdrew his short from the festival, to screen it in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

“He will be invited to screen the film at the local (Tel Aviv) cinematheque. He can then walk around with the same sign down the streets of Palestinian Ramallah. He should document the experience on video and then enter it into next year’s TIFF—posthumously,” Jacobovici told THR.

Now, Greyson is taking up the challenge, the Hollywood Reporter reports:

Greyson told a Toronto press conference Monday that screening his films in Ramallah in 2010 should counter accusations that he’d face possible physical harm, and even death, if he showed his gay-themed films outside of Israel.

Not outside of Israel, exactly; Jacobivici referred explicitly to the West Bank. Greyson likely will not encounter any problems in Ramallah. If has the guts, though, he should try Hebron — or the Gaza Strip; after all, it was Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza that led him to pull his film.

The same story quotes a Palestinian film maker as suggesting that Greyson’s effort is a beside the point:

Also Monday, Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman urged the Tel Aviv spotlight protesters to shift their spotlight to oppressive Middle Eastern regimes beyond Israel.

"There are juntas, they brainwash and are co-producers of the loss of Palestine," Suleiman, who is presenting his latest film, "The Time That Remains," at TIFF.

The filmmaker said he faced withering criticism from the Arab press for not following Greyson and withdrawing his film from Toronto.

"I’m so far from being a cultural Robocop," he said.

[UPDATE: In case you missed the earlier post on the Jane Fonda sublot. … Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center argued that those backing the Toronto declaration had signed on to something that was "intentionally or unintentionally, nothing more than a recipe for Israel’s destruction." Fonda took it personally, responding with a statement in which she described her support for various Israeli causes and defended her decision to join the protest; several Atlanta Jewish leaders, including rabbis and the former federation president, issued their own statement defending her. Then, however, Fonda issued a second statement standing by her opposition to the official focus on Tel Aviv, but saying that the wording of the declaration was problematic:

I recently signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to showcase and celebrate Tel Aviv. This in the very year when Gaza happened. The decision made the festival a participant in the newly launched campaign to "rebrand" Israel. Arye Mekel, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Cultural Affairs, has said that artists and writers must be enlisted in order to "show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war." The protesters felt it was wrong for the much-respected festival to be used in this manner. The role of art, after all, is not to prettify but to expose reality with all its contradictions and complexities. I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue. Last week, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word "teshuva"– to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by "coming with a sincere heart. Words that come from the heart enter the heart." Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city "built on destroyed Palestinian villages," for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts. Additionally, protesting the use of the festival to "rebrand" Israel was perhaps too easily misunderstood. …

Hier then issued a statement praising Fonda’s clarification.]

Finally, Jewish Voice for Peace is distributing a fact sheet to counter the "blizzard of lies" surrounding the Toronto Declaration.

JVP’s first point is argumentative, not refutative:

THE SIGNERS OF THE TIFF PROTEST LETTER DID NOT SINGLE OUT ISRAEL. IT WAS TIFF THAT SINGLED OUT ISRAEL BY SELECTING TEL AVIV FOR A SPECIAL CELEBRATORY HONOR IN A YEAR OF ENORMOUS PALESTINIAN SUFFERING. By selecting Tel Aviv for the inauguration of its City to City program, TIFF became a key player in an explicit, openly-stated Israeli effort to divert world opinion from ongoing violations of international law.

"Branding" nations is not exactly new; in fact, it is institutionalized, and Israel’s sin here is perhaps (surprise, surprise) being so obvious (as in "We invented the wheel!" obvious) about it.

If Israel was not "singled out" where are the efforts to "divert world opinion" from the Iraq and Afghan debacles at American Cultural Centers and British Council Libraries, from the disenfranchisement of the Kanaks and the economic colonialization of West Africa at Alliance Francaise branches?* All these institutions run film festivals, by the way. Romania has undergone something of a film renaissance in recent years; I’ve seen and admired some of these, and yet I do not recall a single one dealing with discrimination against the Roma, whereas many of Israel’s films — including some screened during the festival — deal critically with the Israeli-Arab conflict. Is John Greyson picketing Romanian films, making sure spectators know they’re welcome to watch the movie, as long as they are cognizant of the plight of the Roma?

JVP’s second point is absolutely correct:


Its third point is in disengenuous:


Let’s look at the statement’s passage on Tel Aviv (yet) again:

The emphasis on ‘diversity’ in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

This is a confused, even garbled, paragraph, which seems to suggest two contradictory things: One is that Tel Aviv must not be celebrated without accounting for current Palestinian traumas — the occupation, the dispersal. Alone, that would suggest that the opprobium the signatories attach to Tel Aviv would lift with a true peace. But the paragraph also attaches to Tel Aviv a trauma made permanent because it is rooted in a past rendered irrevocable not just because it is past, but because it is invented: It is "built on destroyed Palestinian villages" and "considering the city’s past" without that acknowledgement is iniquitous.

This is a stain that will never be removed. It is also a stain that has not attached to any other city, although many have suffered histories more traumatic than Tel Aviv’s. (Does Greyson, each time he screens his film on gay Sarajevo, make sure the audience knows he wants the Bosnian Serbs to return to their homes?)

That exclusive mantle for Tel Aviv is, indeed, delegitimization.

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