RSS Get The News Instantly

Fonda, Loach and Klein Among Those Joining Protest Against TIFF

by Peter Knegt (September 3, 2009)

An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:

September 2, 2009

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 We will accept signatures until September 8, 2009

For further reading on this issue:

Letter by Canadian filmmaker John Greyson on withdrawing his film from the Toronto International Film Festival in protest against City to City:

Response by TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey to Greyson’s withdrawal and this petition:

Report in Israeli daily Haaretz:

Report in Guardian newspaper, UK:

Statement by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Previous Page 2 of 2
posted on September 3, 2009
Films to Snag
j carter says on September 4, 2009 at 6:01pm

I found John Greyson’s letter to be an intelligent, progressive and well-reasoned statement. He is familiar with the issues at hand and with historical precedents for boycott campaigns. He had obviously grappled with the specifics of this situation over time, and he appears to have been in communication with the festival directors during that time. He took care to differentiate the basis of his complaint from the individual films and filmmakers involved.

The presence of “Brand Israel” in conjunction with this event is what is sparking the controversy. I believe that Cameron Bailey’s rebuttal that the decision to schedule this program was taken entirely independently can and should be accepted, however that does not mitigate the statements of Consul General Gissin. That this screening was to be used as part of a cynical public relations campaign required some kind of response, and Greyson did well to make that response in an appropriately articulate manner.

noahharlan says on September 4, 2009 at 3:35pm

Sadly, artists are boycotting artists. The irony is that those are claiming to be for discourse are opposed to it.  My thoughts:

International Media Resources says on September 4, 2009 at 3:10pm

I wanted to voice my support for TIFF’s program of highlighting film artists from Tel Aviv. I find it enormously hypocritical that these protesting “celebrities” do not seperate the artistic output of film artists from their government policies. It is as if the world assumed that all Americans were rabid supporters of President Bush in office for the past eight years.

While I am myself a critic of much of the Israeli hard line policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, I think that boycotting the films of these Israeli artists and chastising TIFF for providing them with a forum is unfair, despicable and not worthy of their supposed high-minded outrage.

Perhaps these critics would be better served protesting the lack of any Israeli or even Jewish presence at the upcoming film festivals in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. At least TIFF is providiing a forum for works to be seen, debated and discussed.

Sandy Mandelberger
International Media Resources

moviemaker2008 says on September 4, 2009 at 1:52am

You know what is a real shame here? That some of these celebrities do NOT truly know the issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that they have bought into this notion of the Palestinians as victims—in fact, buying into the Palestinian propaganda machine that has been in full force this entire decade.

For example….

How many people know that Yasser Arafat was a billionaire when he died? Yes, that’s right a billionaire with a B. 99.9% of the world doesn’t know this, because the Palestinian propaganda machine makes sure this kind of stuff gets buried in the news media.

Yasser Arafat diverted hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars meant for his people, into his own personal coffers, money invested around the world in her own personal portfolio. Instead of building schools and hospitals and a business infrastructure, that could provide a living for “his people,” he chose to be a crook instead. As is typical of Palestinian leadership. Victims at the hands of “an oppressor”? Total bullsh*t.

Another example…

Hamas fires hundreds of rockets into Israel, which the world ignores, yet when Israel finally gets tired of the destruction and civilians being killed and retaliates, the Palestinian propaganda machine swings into full gear, making sure the world knows how “brutal” Israel is in their response. This cycle of provocation and response is of course nothing new; it’s been going on for decades. What is new this decade is the Palestinians being able to utilizing the Arab television stations (like Al-Jezeera) to disseminate the messages they want the Arab world to hear. And of course the Arab world has never been favorable to the Jews.

Why doesn’t Al-Jezeera do news stories on Palestinian provocations and aggressions? For the SAME reason FOX News would never show a Republican in an unfavorable light. They’re both extremely biased and have agendas; they are not real news organizations.

One more example…

How many know what kind of peace deal was on the table at Camp David in 2000, with President Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat? Well, perhaps only those who were there, but there are reports that the deal was very favorable to the Palestinians, with concessions never offered before by the Israelis. But Arafat ultimately said ‘No.’ Peace was at hand, and the Palestinians said ‘Ef you.’

Yup, the Palestinians are victims alright. With billionaire leaders and political agendas determining accepting a peace accord or not, who needs enemies??

Propaganda. That’s what is going on, and these celebrities are apparently not smart enough to see through it. What a shame.

biasedcommmenting says on September 3, 2009 at 10:10pm

Wow, a second letter.  I still don’t care.  Oh wait, Jane Fonda signed it?  Now I really don’t care.

Login to Leave a Comment
Upcoming Films
Sugar (Tuesday, September 1)
American Casino (Wednesday, September 2)
Amreeka (Friday, September 4)
Carriers (Friday, September 4)
Extract (Friday, September 4)
Tickling Leo (Friday, September 4)
Unmade Beds (Friday, September 4)

Toronto Film Festival
Docs from the leading international film fest.
The programs in Film, Video, and Broadcasting at NYU-SCPS offer a unique opportunity to collaborate with a variety of like-minded and aspiring producers, directors, cinematographers, and editors, under the guidance and expertise of a faculty of industry professionals. Programs include Intensives, Professional Certificates, and individual courses. Visit our website to view a gallery of student work.