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The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation

Originally published on http://torontodeclaration.blogspot.com

As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.

In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)

In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”

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.

We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.

This letter was drafted by the following ad hoc committee:

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada

Endorsed by:

Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, Egypt

Hany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, Palestine

Mark Achbar, Filmmaker, Canada

Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South Africa

Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, Jerusalem

Anthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USA

Ruba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, Lebanon

Joslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USA

John Berger, Author, France

David Byrne, Musician, USA

Guy Davidi Director, Israel

Na-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South Africa

Igor Drljaca, Filmmaker, Canada

Eve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USA

Eyal Eithcowich, Director, Israel

Sophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UK

Peter Fitting, Professor, Canada

Jane Fonda, Actor and Author, USA

Danny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USA

Noam Gonick, Director, Canada

Malcolm Guy, Filmmaker, Canada

Mike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, Canada

Annemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, Palestine

Fredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USA

Juliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/Haifa

Bonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, Canada

Paul Laverty, Producer, UK

Paul Lee, Filmmaker, Canada

Yael Lerer, publisher, Tel Aviv

Jack Lewis, Filmmaker, South Africa

Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK

Arab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/Lebanon

Kyo Maclear, Author, Toronto

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor, USA

Fatima Mawas, Filmmaker, Australia

Tessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UK

Cornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USA

Yousry Nasrallah, Director, Egypt

Rebecca O'Brien, Producer, UK

Pratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UK

Jeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USA

John Pilger, Filmmaker, UK

Shai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, Israel

Ian Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, Canada

Judy Rebick, Professor, Canada

David Reeb, Artist, Tel Aviv

B. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USA

Wallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USA

Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/Sderot

Elia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New York

Eran Torbiner, Filmmaker, Israel

Alice Walker, Writer, USA

Thomas Waugh, Professor, Canada

Howard Zinn, Writer, USA

Slavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia

To add your name to this letter, please send your name, occupation and country to tiff.letter@gmail.com

For further reading on this issue:

An interview with Naomi Klein and Israeli publisher Yael Lerer on why boycotting Israel will pressure the country to live up to international law:
http://www.alternet.org/world/142341/naomi_klein_shows_you_can_boycott_israel_without_cutting_off_dialogue_over_palestine/

Letter by Canadian filmmaker John Greyson on withdrawing his film from the Toronto International Film Festival in protest against City to City:
http://tiny.cc/tiff_open_letter

Response by TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey to Greyson’s withdrawal and this petition:
http://www.tiff.net/livefromthefestival/openlettercitytocity

Report in Israeli daily Haaretz:
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1110750.html

Report in Guardian newspaper, UK:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/sep/01/israel-palestine-boycott-film

Statement by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel:
http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1085


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