This week’s Washington Jewish Week has a short piece about a counter-protest against the TIFF protesters. For those who don’t know, a group of filmmakers, artists and academics protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s holding a special focus on Tel Aviv. The protest document, called ‘The Toronto Declaration’ has rankled many of Israel’s aggressive supporters for making a comparison to apartheid South Africa and the general characterization of the state.
Now, a group of mostly Hollywood directors, actors and writers have written a letter protesting the Toronto Declaration, calling it an effort at ‘blacklisting’. I personally have some problems with the wording of the Toronto Declaration, but the counter-protest and the Washington Jewish Week piece distort what the Declaration said. It is hardly a ‘blacklisting’, as the protest does not call for any restrictions on Israeli films or filmmakers. The focus on Tel Aviv does not appear to be part of a focus on Israeli film, but rather part of an advertising campaign, as noted by Roger Ebert, who is not a signatory to either petition. Not surprisingly, Israel wants to draw attention to the realities of the occupation, and this is part of a new effort.
The aspect of the Washington Jewish Week piece that I find to be most pernicious is the attempt to discredit the signatories of the Toronto Declaration, partly through a subtle racism. Five signatories are named, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Julie Christie, and Alice Walker. First is Jane Fonda, who for most people self-identified as “pro-Israel” will dismiss as a lefty radical who supported the Viet-Cong. Belafonte, Glover, and Walker are all black. This seems like an effort to characterize blacks as enemies of the Jews, as the number of African-Americans on the list is not very large. Furthermore, a significant proportion of the signatories are Jewish, and there are a number of Israelis on the list as well. As for other celebrities, there is Viggo Morternson, Howard Zinn, Slavok Zizek, Ken Loach who are all as notable as Julie Christie.