September 15, 2009
By choosing to highlight the city of Tel Aviv, the Toronto International Film Festival is demonstrating their ignorance to the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Whether intentionally or not, TIFF is downplaying the crimes being committed by Israel, portraying it as a multicultural, democratic country, and shoving that skewed point of view down the Canadian public’s throat.
In protest to this decision, a group of over 1,000 writers, producers and directors—including Israelis and Palestinians—have signed the Toronto Declaration, an open letter addressed to the organizers at TIFF.
This protest is completely justified. These Israeli films have no place at TIFF.
Tel Aviv, the city portrayed in the films, is not a haven of diversity, as the Israeli government claims. The Israeli state treats Arab Israelis as second-class citizens. Its treatment of Palestinians, whether defined as an “apartheid” or not, are nevertheless horrendous. To promote this city in an international film festival is to disregard these truths.
The timing of the Tel Aviv feature is also suspect. The Israeli government has of late been engaged in a Brand Israel campaign, through which they hope to change people’s views on the Jewish state. TIFF’s decision to feature films from Israel in the midst of a propaganda campaign is questionable.
In Canada, we have a history of keeping a safe distance between the government and culture.
When the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences proposed the creation of the Canada Council for the Arts, in 1951, the commission made it clear that the Canada Council has to be accountable to the parliament, not the government of the day. This is because they recognized “the dangers inherent in any system of subvention by the central government to the arts and letters.”
This is the direction the Canadian government has been taking ever since it started funding the arts. Maintaining a clear distinction between art sponsorship and government propaganda is central to the Canadian character. The very idea that the Israeli government could be trying to infiltrate Canadian culture with centrally planned propaganda is the antithesis of democracy.
I do believe that Israel can be a force of good in the Middle East—its secularism and individual freedom can be seen as an example for other countries in the region, and I do believe that Israel has the potential to be a truly equal and democratic state—but that does not mean we should turn a blind eye on the current situation there. While Israel may not be the devil incarnate, as many anti-Zionists like to portray it, its crimes should not be ignored or downplayed.