Of blacklists and boycotts

TIFF protest garners a huge celebrity response


In a classroom at Ryerson on Tuesday, where dissers of TIFF’s Tel Aviv Spotlight held a press conference, one of the spectators at the back of the room, made a stellar observation.

“Your protest,” she opined, “is so civil.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant to say, but actually, the phrase fits pretty well.

The fact is, the Toronto Declaration, framed by artists and filmmakers like Richard Fung, John Greyson, Elle Flanders, Naomi Klein and others as a critique of TIFF’s Tel Aviv choice, is a very unusual document – and we might not see its like again. It’s oddity is that it sweats passion but doesn’t demand that anyone blackball anyone else.

Opponents of the statement are either pretending not to get this – or actually really don’t.

A full-page ad Tuesday morning signed by a hundred and some including Jerry Seinfeld, Lisa Kudrow, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc, accuses the Declaration people in blaring headlines of “blacklisting” Israeli filmmakers. Can’t they read?

Sure, the anti-Tel Avivniks say electric things. At the press conference, Mazen Masri, a grad student in law at Osgoode and a former legal advisor to the PLO, declared the Spotlight an attempt to “whitewash war crimes” and described how Tel Aviv was built on destroyed Palestinian villages.

Director Udi Aloni, via video, said protesting the occupation was the only way to express his Jewishness and that artists shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as “fronts to brand Israel as a cool place.”

Filmmaker Elle Flanders asked “what other country gets feted” for killing civilians?

But despite the righteous indignation – and of course, John Greyson pulling his flick from the festival – the Declaration remains a “statement of conscience” rather than a line in the sand.

Signatories are “deeply disturbed” they “object” to the use of the Festival as part of a “propaganda campaign.” But, hear them well – they don’t want Israeli films to be “unwelcome.” This is not a boycott. It’s a party pooping enterprise.

As I say, pretty genteel for solidarity activism. But, alas, don’t get used to it. This kind of sensitive resistance – I’m partial to it myself – won’t endure. If Leonard Cohen, the bearer of peace, can get tossed about by boycott momentum, so can the Dalai Lama himself.

Still, who can move this plot along? The Israeli addiction to collective punishment remains unbroken, too many Palestinian civilians have died and there’s a desperation for tactics that intrude in the world beyond.

Get ready for real boycotts and uneasy choices. Discomfort has its graces, too.

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