No Celebration of Occupation

Last week saw the opening of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, an event “renowned as one of the world’s top cinematic events, the staging ground for the top films in any given year.”1 And shortly before its opening, a campaign launched, protesting the “festival’s decision to host a showcase on Israeli films from Tel Aviv for its inaugural City-to-City program.”2

I’ve been reading a fair bit about this over the past week. Starting with the “group of artists and writers”3 who “drafted a letter of protest against the Tel Aviv spotlight,”4The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation‘, which states;

“We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime…”

And, yes, I’ve even read a bit of the backlash, well one article, at least. The backlash that mischaracterized the argument and largely fails to recognize the existence of the words, I just cited about. Not my point…

Rather, today Naomi Klein was on Democracy Now, discussing the the action, No Celebration of Occupation: 1,500 Artists and Writers Sign Letter Protesting Toronto Film Festival Decision to Spotlight Tel Aviv. In said conversation she spelled out the whole point, rather eloquently, in a single paragraph;

“And to just give you one example, imagine that this year the Toronto International Film Festival had decided to have a cinematic spotlight, a cinematic homage, as Ha’aretz described this program, on the city of Colombo, with the full blessing of the Sri Lankan government, overwhelmingly Sinhalese-dominated, not a single Tamil director, just as there’s not a single Palestinian director in this spotlight. Now, Toronto has a huge population—a huge Tamil population, very active. They would have been protesting outside, because it would have been perceived as a sort of a whitewash in a year that the Sri Lankan government rightly stands accused of war crimes…”

And went onto say;

“For some reason, Israel is supposed to be the exception, and we are accused of singling out Israel. But, in fact, what we’re doing—and when you look at the people who have signed our letter, like Howard Zinn, Harry Belafonte, Eve Ensler, these are people who have devoted their lives to applying human rights standards across the board. They’re not singling out Israel. What they’re saying is, we insist on applying the same standards that we apply to every other country to Israel, as well. And just as we wouldn’t celebrate another country that stands accused of war crimes, we don’t believe it’s apolitical to celebrate Israel…”

But don’t stop there, check out the entire interview…