No Celebration of Occupation: 1,500 Artists and Writers Sign Letter Protesting Toronto Film Festival Decision to Spotlight Tel Aviv
“A protest at the Toronto International Film Festival has taken center stage after a group of artists and writers signed a letter of protest against the festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv. Activists say the TIFF spotlight plays into Israel’s attempt to improve its global image in the wake of the assault on the Gaza Strip and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. Over 1,500 people have signed the letter, called ‘The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,’ including Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte. We speak with journalist and author Naomi Klein, who helped draft the letter…
…AMY GOODMAN: Explain why the Toronto International Film Festival is celebrating Tel Aviv.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, this is a very—this is a controversial question. Cameron Bailey, the co-director of the festival, says that it was entirely his decision, that there was no political interference, and we take him at his word. He’s very respected in the film community. But what we are saying is that, whether knowingly or not, this decision fits in with a campaign, a very aggressive campaign, that has been launched by Israel’s Foreign Ministry to use culture really as a weapon to distract attention from the occupation and from the allegations of war crimes in Gaza, but even before the Gaza attack.
And what’s interesting is that in—Toronto has been selected to test market something that is called ‘Brand Israel,’ the rebranding of Israel. And this is because Toronto has really been a kind of a battleground. It has a very strong Palestinian community and solidarity community. It also has a very large and active Jewish community. And it’s been a battle zone. So, actually, Canada has more Israeli diplomats than any other country in the world, because this—including the United States, despite our relatively small population, because the Israeli government sees Canada as a very important battleground, as a very important testing ground. So Toronto has been selected to sort of test-drive this rebranding campaign for Israel.
And, you know, it’s not our imagination; it’s not a quiet conspiracy. We’ve read about this in the New York Times and Reuters reports. And I’ll just give you one example…”
Note to all readers who, like me, participated in last winter’s protests against the bombardment of Gaza–The following quote highlights to me the importance of protest:
“…And I was told something that really stayed with me. I was working with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. They were taking me around, and we had a discussion with a group of NGO leaders, women’s rights leaders. And one of the things that was said to me was that there was actually more hope during the attack, which seemed—than there was now, than there was in the aftermath, which just blindsided me. I mean, how could you say that? How could you say that there was more hope while bombs and missiles were falling, when those children were being killed, than there is now?
And the answer was that when Gazans turned on their televisions—you know, in any kind of war, people who can are watching television to try to get any kind of information they can, or listen to the radio—and in addition to the carnage that they were hearing about, there were also hearing reports of a world enraged. They were hearing about those protesters in London, in cities around the world, just rejecting Israel’s actions, not buying that this was a defensive war. They heard reports of women in my city, in Toronto, occupying the consul general’s office. Jewish women did this and stayed, and it was an incredible action. And so, what I was told by people who I spoke to in Gaza was that there was a feeling that if they could survive these horrific attacks, this would be the turning point, that people were seeing the lawlessness, the brutality of the occupation, and there would be a demand for a new era, that the siege on Gaza, for instance, would have to be lifted.
Here they were, six months later, now eight months later, and the illegal siege on Gaza continued. There was no justice on the way. I mean, Gaza was—it felt to me like a massive crime scene, but that was being tampered with because the police hadn’t shown up. And just the outrage that such brutality, such open brutality, hadn’t led to any kind of justice. And that’s really what struck with me…”
–Democracy Now!, 14 September, 2009
Also from Democracy Now:
Naomi Klein on “Minority Death Match: Jews, Blacks and the ‘Post-Racial’ Presidency”
“We speak with journalist Naomi Klein about her latest article for Harper’s Magazine, ‘Minority Death Match: Jews, Blacks and the “Post-Racial” Presidency.’ The piece examines the World Conference Against Racism that was held in Geneva this past April, a follow-up to the first racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001. There was a major boycott with the Obama administration refusing to attend, claiming the conference would unfairly target Israel. Critics say the controversy over Israel could have been an excuse to avoid dealing with the conference’s key issues, including addressing the legacy of slavery…”
–Democracy Now!, 14 September, 2009
Read the Full Text of the Toronto Declaration Here:
See also this related fact sheet from Jewish Voice for Peace:
A Blizzard of Lies
“This fact sheet is a response to the campaign of disinformation being waged against the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) protest letter, ‘The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,' signed by 1,000 people including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Naomi Klein, Eve Ensler, along with many Israelis and Palestinians. This year, TIFF decided to put a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv at the festival, in line with the goals of the Israeli Consulate’s ‘Brand Israel’ program. In its own words, the ‘Brand Israel’ program aims to publicize Israeli culture in order to distract public attention from its human rights record. The letter of protest objects to this politicization of the film festival, saying it is inappropriate given Israel’s nearly 42-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories, the recent assault and continuing siege on Gaza, and the history of and ongoing dispossession of Palestinians in Tel Aviv-Jaffa itself.
Since the release of the protest letter, public figures and media outlets have spread false charges and misinformation about the letter, some even going so far as to raise slanderous accusations against some letter signers.
This fact sheet refutes three key false charges:
1) That the protest letter unfairly singles out Israel.
2) That the letter calls for a boycott of the Film Festival and Israeli films.
3) That the letter in any way delegitimizes Tel Aviv…”
–Jewish Voice for Peace
Ted Kennedy’s Changing Take on Israel
“Being wrapped in an Israeli flag this past week has caused Madonna, our Lady of Miracles, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and AIPAC some flak.
First, the simple case. Strutting underdressed across the concert stage in Tel Aviv wrapped in an Israel flag on 9/2/09, as her partner, the Brazilian model ‘Jesus’ shouted ‘Viva! Viva!’ off stage was probably just the Material Girl doing her material thing. And anyhow, the late Michael Jackson could have been mistaken when he made his snide remark a while back, ‘She can’t sing. She can’t dance. I don’t understand her success!’
On her quick trip north to the Palestinian village of Safad near the Lebanese border to view a Kabbalah shrine, Esther/Madonna may not have been advised that most of Safad’s population was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and with their offspring most now live in 12 Refugee Camps in Lebanon and 10 in Syria. Reading deep politics into her flag-wearing event may be unwarranted since Esther/Madonna has now apparently offered to don the Palestinian flag or even Hamas’ or Hezbollah’s just to make amends and dampen the flap from her flag wrap.
Abe Foxman, President of ADL and AIPAC on the other hand, knew exactly what they were doing four days earlier as both offered to send an Israeli flag to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston’s Mission Hill section. The plan was to wrap Ted Kennedy’s casket, side by side with the American flag, each flag to cover roughly half of Ted’s casket during Kennedy’s internationally broadcast funeral, which was even watched live in Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburbs. Only since the lobby’s continuing exploitation of the Holocaust and ADL’s use of the image of Yasser Arafat to demonize him and raise millions to fund illegal settlement expansion, did Foxman see such a terrific chance to hype brand Zionism, this time by linking it in perpetuity to the Kennedy mystique and the Arlington Cemetery eternal flame.
Wrapping Kennedy in the Israeli flag for history would no doubt give a boost to Israel’s preferred historical narrative and the Israeli flag which has increasingly come to represent virulent Zionism and its crimes.
AIPAC claims the well-intentioned project to wrap Kennedy in the Star of David was no more than another gesture for the memory of a friend of the Jewish people. Perhaps Abe saw his initiative as a return tribute for Ted’s thoughtfulness during the November 6, 1995 funeral for Yitzak Rabin on Mount Herzl (renamed for the founder of modern Zionism, Hungarian Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodore) Herzl, who had never set foot in Palestine, from its ancient expunged Arabic name ‘Jabal Assalam’ meaning ‘Peace Mountain’) On that day Senator Kennedy sprinkled a cup of soil from his two brothers, John and Robert’s, gravesites at Arlington Cemetery on Rabin’s, as a gesture of respect.
Despite some intense lobbying, the Kennedy family graciously declined the Foxman-AIPAC offer and Ted’s coffin carried only the American flag…”
–Franklin Lamb, 11-13 September, 2009
See Also Alexander Cockburn’s Refreshingly Scathing Look Back at Ted Kennedy’s Life:
Teddy Kennedy the Hollow Champion
“…The two prongs of Kennedy’s deregulatory attack – later decorated with the political label ‘neo-liberalism’ – were aimed at airlines and trucking, and Kennedy’s man, Alfred Kahn was duly installed by Jimmy Carter at the Civil Aeronautics Board to introduce the cleansing winds of competition into the industry. By and large, airline deregulation went down well with the press and, for a time, with the public, who rejoiced in the bargains offered by the small fry such as People’s Express, and by the big fry striking back. The few critics who said that within a few years the nation would be left with five or six airlines, oligopoly and higher fares, were mostly ignored.
No one ever really wrote about the terrible effects of trucking deregulation outside the left press. It was certainly the most ferocious anti-labor move of the 1970s, with Kennedy as the driving force. Some of Kennedy’s aides promptly reaped the fruits of their legislative labors, leaving the Hill to make money hand over fist trying to break unions on behalf of Frank Lorenzo, the Texan entrepreneur who ran the Texas Air Corporation and its properties, Continental Airlines and its subsidiary, Eastern.
Did Kennedy fight, might and main, against NAFTA? No. As Steve Early relates in his piece on this site today, he was for it and helped Clinton ratify the job-losing Agreement. Then he put his shoulder behind GATT, parent of the World Trade Agreement.
We also have Kennedy to thank for ‘No Child Left Behind’ – the nightmarish education act pushed through in concert with Bush Jr’s White House, that condemns children to a treadmill of endless tests contrived as ‘national standards’.
And it was Kennedy who was the prime force behind the Hate Crimes Bill, aka the Matthew Shepard Act, by dint of which America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women. “Hate speech,” far short of any direct incitement to violence, is on the edge of being criminalized, with the First Amendment going the way of the dodo.
The deadly attacks on the working class and on organized labor are Ted Kennedy’s true monument. But as much as his brothers Jack and Bobby he was adept at persuading the underdogs that he was on their side...”
–Alexander Cockburn, 28-30 August, 2009