Here's something you may not have heard for a while: "Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages."
Credit for this historical observation goes to an ad hoc committee of artists and filmmakers heaping scorn on the Toronto International Film Festival for daring to program a Tel Aviv segment, as Israel's biggest city marks its 100th anniversary.
In an open letter – "The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation" – the signatories condemn TIFF for showcasing Tel Aviv, comparing it to the way a propagandist would sanitize "white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid."
Thankfully, the protesters are not objecting to the new TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival's future home, being built on destroyed First Nations villages. To be sure, that would be ancient history; but why is this anti-Israel petition fixated on Partition – the 1947 United Nations plan that awarded Tel Aviv to Israel more than six decades ago? The subtext is that Tel Aviv is akin to an illegal Jewish settlement.
It is tempting to ignore this latest, tedious tiff over TIFF, spawned by a few dozen protesters who signed the petition – Jane Fonda and Naomi Klein among them. The anti-Israel diatribes are becoming a bore: Complaints against the Royal Ontario Museum for showing Israel's biblical Dead Sea Scrolls; "Israel Apartheid Week" for high-minded student activists; CUPE locals calling for a boycott of Israeli academics; and the latest Pride parade featuring a float that attacked gay-friendly Israel for apartheid policies (ignoring other Middle Eastern regimes that persecute gays).
Now TIFF is the target for those who would treat Israel as a pariah, demonize every aspect of its existence, and smear its supporters in Canada. TIFF, they imply, is in the pocket of the Jews – from both Canada and Israel. Their open letter conspicuously highlights the names of "Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation," noting ominously that TIFF is now "complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine." Cue dark clouds of conspiracy.
Replying to his accusers, TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey says he chose Tel Aviv to inaugurate an annual "City to City focus on films" that will showcase cities through a cinematic lens. TIFF took no Israeli money. The festival will also be showing films by Palestinian, Egyptian and Lebanese filmmakers when it opens this Thursday.
What a strange plot twist: Canadian filmmakers who pay lip service to free expression trying to bring the curtains down on Israeli filmmakers whose art is tainted by their Tel Aviv origins. But if the protesters are applying a litmus test to all world cities, why not castigate city hall for twinning Toronto with Chongqing, given China's human rights abuses? Or demand that Toronto sever its "friendship" links with Volgograd because of Russia's political sins?
Tel Aviv, it seems, makes for a more tempting target.
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