Now Tel Aviv is under attack, at the Toronto Film Festival

By Gil Troy, September 10, 2009
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Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv

Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv

In the relentless attempt to demonise and de-legitimise Israel, the latest flashpoint is the Toronto International Family Festival.

The TIFF is toasting Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday as “a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates diversity”.

In protest, the Canadian film-maker John Greyson withdrew his film from the festival, comparing honouring Tel Aviv films to “celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963… Chilean wines in 1973… or South African fruit in 1991”.

Predictably, various leftist celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover and David Byrne, cheered Greyson’s boycott.

The TIFF is a world-class cultural festival, running this year from September 10-19. In 2008, the festival screened 312 films from 64 different countries. The trendy celebrity protest violates the festival’s spirit.

More disturbing, it delivers another blow to the peace process by advancing an exterminationist agenda against the Jewish state. If even a benign celebration of Tel Aviv’s film-making community — which is quite pro-Palestinian — is unacceptable, then nothing Israeli is OK.

Comparing Israel to the American South’s Jim Crow regime, Pinochet’s dictatorship and South African apartheid makes the protestors’ aims clear: they wish to tar Israel with the crime of racism and seek its obliteration.

These ignoramuses try to read racial conflict into what is a clash of two nationalisms. They fail to acknowledge that there are light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis, let alone that Israel has welcomed African refugees often persecuted by racist Arabs.

In distorting the truth, these critics march to the beat of a propagandists’ drum rooted in Arab antisemitism, Soviet anti-Zionism, and Nazi racism.

This is not to say that all criticism of Israel is illegitimate. But the “Zionism is racism” libel, which the UN General Assembly embraced in 1975, had these illegitimate ideological ancestors.

If these people truly want peace, they should learn from the history of the conflict that Israel makes peace when it feels comfortable, not threatened. Those who seek a true two-state solution must stop delegitimising either nation.

Israelis learned this in accepting the Oslo Peace Process of the 1990s. Unfortunately, too many Palestinians and their allies resist this lesson and campaign for Israel’s isolation and annihilation.

Israel is not perfect. But celebrating Tel Aviv at the TIFF should have been an opportunity to toast its diversity, democracy and creativity. The critics’ myopia reflects their bias. We must delegitimise these delegitimisers, highlighting the cesspools which spawned their one-sided enmity and the risk they pose to peace in the Middle East.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal, Canada

    Last updated: 12:48pm, September 10 2009