British actress Vanessa Redgrave has denounced the artists who urged organisers of the Toronto Film Festival to drop a celebration of Tel Aviv.
Ms Redgrave, 72, is an unlikely defender of Israel, she is known as a fierce critic of the country and is a supporter of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
The Oscar-winning actress has spoken out in support of the Palestinian cause in the past and said in 2007 that unless Israel totally withdrew from the Palestinian territories “the world will be in terrible, terrible trouble.”
But she has written a letter, co-signed by artist Julian Schnabel and playwright Martin Sherman, to the New York Review of Books defending the Toronto Film Festival’s choice to showcase films about Tel Aviv.
The festival’s celebration of Tel Aviv led to a boycott by filmmaker John Grayson, supported in a letter by filmmakers including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover and David Byrne. (Jane Fonda subsequently re-thought her actions and said she had signed the boycott letter too hastily.)
The letter from Ms Redgrave and her co-signatories took issue with the protestors’ use of the phrase “apartheid regime”.
It says: “We oppose the current Israeli government, but it is a government. Freely elected. Not a regime. Words matter.
“Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist.
“How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?
“Many citizens of Tel Aviv are particularly aware of the situation of the Palestinians and are concerned about their government’s policies and their country’s future. And none more so than the Tel Aviv creative community. This is exemplified by Israeli films that criticise their government’s behaviour.
“These citizens of Tel Aviv and their organisations and their cultural outlets should be applauded and encouraged.
“We do not agree that this involvement is a reason to shun or protest, picket or boycott, or ban people who are expressing thoughts and confronting grief that, ironically, many of the protesters share.”