The protest against the Toronto International Film Festival’s City to City program with Tel Aviv continues to grow. Organizers have announced that their letter of protest has collected over 1,000 signatures. From a press release titled "Toronto Declaration Unstoppable":
The organizers of the Toronto Declaration – No Celebration of Occupation are pleased to announce that more than 1000 people from around the world-including many Israelis-have signed on in protest of TIFF’s City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv. New signatories include music and cinematic legends Harry Belafonte and Julie Christie. Actor Viggo Mortensen, who will be attending this year’s festival, just added his name. Leading intellectual figures Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler and Anne McClintock have also recently endorsed the declaration, along with prominent Canadian writers Rawi Hage, Joy Kogawa, Dionne Brand, and Kerri Sakamoto. Celebrated local filmmakers Velcro Ripper, Min Sook Lee and Lynne Fernie have also signed the letter.
Kathy Wazana, a Canadian documentary filmmaker and one of the original authors of the letter, also has a great op-ed about the controversy in today’s Toronto Star. In it she both rebuts official criticisms of the film festival protest, and also responds to her own family members who have criticized her action:
I am Jewish, with deep ties to Israel, and to my family members living there. Speaking out against the State of Israel neither diminishes my Jewishness nor puts Israel at risk of destruction.
It calls on Israel to live up to the standard of Jewish ethics that I grew up with. As though this should exonerate Israel, its defenders are always quick to point to the many countries where human rights are routinely violated, leading, inevitably, to the question: "Why are you singling out Israel?"
We do not deny or condone other countries that oppress their populations. Had Beijing or Tehran been selected as the inaugural City to City spotlight, and presented in an uncritical and largely laudatory manner, there would have been equally outraged protests.
TIFF singled out Israel for a celebratory spotlight, and its timing could not have been worse, in view of the ongoing settlement and colonization of Palestinian lands, of the continued construction of the wall that is enclosing the Palestinian population of the West Bank in a series of claustrophobic, prison-like enclaves, of the daily acts of humiliation and violations of the rights and the dignity of old and young alike, and, most recently, of the lethal assault on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinian women, men and children dead.
The purpose of our letter was to point to a few things that are left out of the glowing descriptions of Tel Aviv as "a young dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates diversity." Many people are excluded from that diversity and Tel Aviv, far from being outside the conflict, is the military centre of Israel, a place fighter jets departed from on their lethal missions to Gaza last December and January.
Asserting these facts in no way argues that Israel should not exist or calls for its destruction. This absurd claim is being circulated with the express purpose of discrediting the letter and intimidating its authors into silence.
The accusations seek to divert attention from the issue at hand: the hijacking of Toronto’s premier cultural event and putting it at the service of Israel’s political agenda.
Wazana begins her article by telling a story about receiving a call from her mom asking, "Why are you attacking Israel?". Answering that question in our families, as well as in our communities and society, is one of the greatest accomplishments of any boycott action. Although critics claim that boycotts cut of discussion, the truth is that they are sometimes necessary to force a debate that has been prevented from occurring. The Toronto action has disrupted a status quo which obscures the reality on the ground in Israel/Palestine, and in the process has opened up a conversation which is long overdue.