Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thank you for your support!

Quick link to the Toronto Declaration

Support for the ‘Toronto Declaration – No Celebration of Occupation’ has been tremendous. We sincerely thank every individual and organization that has joined in our efforts. We also wanted to share some important updates with you regarding the Toronto Declaration:

Although TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey vehemently denied any links between the spotlight and Brand Israel, the Canadian Jewish News reported today (Sept 16/09) that the Mayor of Tel Aviv confirmed the involvement of the Israeli government in TIFF’s City-to-City Spotlight. According to the report, Mayor Ron Huldai “said that while the City to City program was initiated by the festival, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs was involved as part of its Brand Israel media and advertising campaign, which was launched last year.” We are glad to see that the connections between the Spotlight and the Brand Israel campaign have been clarified; we had hoped these answers would come from TIFF directly.

A reminder: we are protesting because we could not stand idly by as Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s economic and military power, was being celebrated as if this was an apolitical decision. Palestinians in Gaza continue to live under a brutal Israeli siege that has turned Gaza into what countless observers have described as an open-air prison, with access even to food and medicine greatly restricted. We protested the spotlight to call attention to a humanitarian emergency and an ongoing crime. The UN fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict led by the renowned South African constitutional court judge Richard Goldstone has just concluded that Israel indeed committed war crimes in Gaza earlier this year, and further that there is evidence that Israel may have committed crimes against humanity. This was why we said "no celebration of Occupation," facts deliberately ignored in most press reports.

As you have no doubt heard, our petition is being falsely accused of "blacklisting" Israeli filmmakers. Anyone who had read the letter knows this is untrue. The irony is that we couldn't find a single newspaper to publish our letter, despite the fact that it is now an international phenomenon. And unlike our critics, we don't have the resources to buy advertisements that reiterate the editorial line that the newspaper has already taken. And yet, despite the bullying we are all facing, we have to remember that this is only a sideshow. Many Palestinian artists and filmmakers, denied freedom of movement by Israel's Occupation and pass system, are de facto boycotted, unable to communicate with their communities or travel freely. The double standard is mind-boggling and, slowly, these are the issues we are helping to put under a spotlight.

The stated goal of the Brand Israel campaign is to change the subject from these kinds of human rights abuses to more pleasant topics like art and medicine. Thanks to your work and support, in the case of the Toronto International Film Festival, the strategy has failed miserably. The JTA, the leading Jewish news agency, just reported that, "rather than talking about Israel's rich cinematic culture, the buzz this week in Toronto has centered on the one thing Israeli officials had sought to avoid: the conflict with the Palestinians." We firmly believe that is exactly where it belongs.

Because of your courage in speaking out early, you are now inspiring others to raise their voices as well. Yesterday, the respected U.S.-based non-profit Jewish Voices for Peace launched a petition in support of the signatories of the Toronto Declaration. The petition states: "I stand with you against the bullying attacks which are attempting to silence discussion and dissent regarding Israel. Thank you for your courageous stand. You speak for me." In less than 24 hours, roughly 7,000 people have added their names. Check out the petition here and encourage your friends to sign. We’re sure you will join us in thanking those signers as well.

So this is just an update to let you know that, despite all the overheated language and misinformation, our message is getting out and we are opening up the debate that should have happened at TIFF. We have managed to turn the Spotlight on the festival and asked it to take responsibility for the political choice it made to celebrate Tel Aviv and make TIFF this year, the year of the Gaza assault, a showpiece for the Brand Israel propaganda campaign.

Defamation, intimidation, and diversion won't stop us from protesting crimes that no amount of rebranding can erase. Please take the time to fight back agaist the misinformation: write letters, post comments, write op-ed and link to the original letter as much as you can, so people can judge for themselves.