Redgrave defends Tel Aviv, Toronto film festival


Actress Vanessa Redgrave was once filmed dancing with a Kalashnikov rifle at a PLO camp, and talked about "Zionist hodlums" in an 1978 Academy Award acceptance speech. She even supported a British blacklist of Israeli artists in the mid-1980s. But time has apparently tempered her views.

In a letter to the New York Review of Books, Redgrave, along with artist Julian Schnabel and screenwriter and playwright Martin Sherman, say that the protest by other artists of the Toronto Film Festival’s decision to feature films from Tel Aviv was "improperly thought out" and has "distressing implications":

…Many citizens of Tel Aviv are particularly cognizant of the situation of the Palestinians and are concerned about their government’s policies and their country’s future. And none more so than the Tel Aviv creative community. This is exemplified by Israeli films that criticize their government’s behavior, and some startling Israeli theater pieces, such as the Cameri Theatre’s Plonter, seen earlier this year in London. The Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom, and many Israeli human rights groups and advocates are based in Tel Aviv. Some 10,000 Israeli citizens demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the military attack on Gaza in January this year, a fact not reported by the BBC World News or CNN.

These citizens of Tel Aviv and their organizations and their cultural outlets should be applauded and encouraged. Their presence and their continued activity is reason alone to celebrate their city. Cultural exchanges almost always involve government channels. This occurs in every country. There is no way around it. We do not agree that this involvement is a reason to shun or protest, picket or boycott, or ban people who are expressing thoughts and confronting grief that, ironically, many of the protesters share.

The artists also take on the protestors’ argument that Tel Aviv was built on "destroyed Palestinian villages":

In their letter the protesters say that "Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages." True. Just as much of America is built on obliterated Indian property. Are they implying that Tel Aviv should not exist? At least not in its present form? Which would mean that the State of Israel (the original State of Israel, not including the occupied territories) should not exist. Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist. How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?

And they say that the protestors should be careful about the language they employ:

The protesters use the term "apartheid regime." We oppose the current Israeli government, but it is a government. Freely elected. Not a regime. Words matter.

Recommended from JTA