Danish-American actor, Viggo Mortensen, is one of many artists taking a bold stand against the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and its commemorative spotlight on Tel Aviv. According to Judy Rebick of Canadian Dimension:
This is the first time that TIFF has held a City to City spotlight and the spotlight is on Tel Aviv, a city that is symbolic to Zionist Jews of Israel’s success and to Palestinians of the ethnic cleansing that took place to found that state of Israel.
The Toronto Declaration has over 1,000 signatures of filmmakers, writers, and musicians alike, including Danny Glover, Julie Christie, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Naomi Klein, and Naom Chomsky. Here’s a surprise: They’re being vilifed and demonized.
Filmmaker Robert Lantos goes as far as calling the protest a “gang of well-fed, fashionable bigots” who just want to “stifle voices they don’t like.” He asserts that Naomi Klein et al “have taken a page straight out of the fascist propaganda handbook.”
Hmm. In Robert Lantos’ article, he states there was no such thing as a Palestine. Wow, so did the world begin in 1948, Mr. Lantos? I suppose your “point” erases the fact that over 700,000 Palestinians were evicted and forced out of their homes. Speaking out against military occupation and oppression is propaganda, but denying the existence of another group of people is not?
Mortensen, who is best known for his role as Aragorn from “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, wrote some strong words about the Israeli government in a recent blog entry explaining why he decided to sign the Toronto Declaration:
[The statement objects] to the festival singling out Tel Aviv (which was merged with Jaffa to form a single municipality in 1950) for special recognition when the government of Israel continues to flout international law, essentially acting unilaterally as a rogue state in very much the same manner that the U.S. government did under George W. Bush…
I signed the statement in question, along with people like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and many other thoughtful citizens from various countries (including a number of Israelis) some of whom have suffered from very real censorship and blacklisting. The statement does not promote the boycotting or censorship of any artist or movie from Israel or anywhere else. Those who have attacked the statement with that accusation are simply spreading misinformation and, unfortunately, continuing the ongoing successful distraction from the issue at hand: the Israeli government’s whitewashing of their illegal and inhumane actions inside and outside their legal national borders. There was nobody outside the cinema objecting to anyone going to see “Ajami”. In fact, there was nobody doing anything other than going to see this and other movies being shown at the Scotiabank complex, or just walking on down Toronto’s Richmond Street.
The sad part is that all of this may come to a shock to many of Mortensen’s Republican fans. I know because I know some of those fans. When “Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King” was released, some of my Republican friends boasted about how the film paralleled with current events and how the United States – “the bastion of the free world” – needed to defend itself in the same manner as portrayed in the films (interesting enough, co-star John Rhys-Davies drew similar parallels and made bizzare Islamophobic remarks). I know they’re alarmed by this statement of their beloved Aragorn, the courageous and fearless leader of “the great men of the west.”
“I can’t imagine why a Jew would kill an innocent civilian,” my White non-Muslim friend once said. I fired back, “But it isn’t hard for you to imagine a Muslim killing an innocent civilian, right?” The second I said that, he knew he made a flawed statement. He realized immediately that he was conditioned to categorize Jews and Christians as the “good guys” and “upholders of democracy,” as if they’re immune to carrying out atrocities and terrorism.
Like many people, including anti-racist activists, writers, and academics, it is taboo to criticize Israel. Criticizing Zionism is automatically equated with anti-semitism. If you criticize Israel, it not only means you hate Jews, but it also means you support terrorism. And terrorism, as discussed in a previous blog post, can only be carried out by Muslims and Arabs.
Yes, yes, innocent Palestinians died in Gaza, but Hamas made Israel do it. It’s Hamas’ fault. Israel cannot be blamed.
This is the brainwashing of Israel’s propaganda machine. Every time we’re silent about Israel’s atrocities, whether out of fear, ignorance, or reluctance, we’re giving in. I have seen many others claim to be anti-racist and anti-oppression academics, but they will keep their lips sealed when it comes to Israel. Why? Because they’re afraid of the “anti-semitism” label.
You want to see a bold stand against oppression? Look at Toronto filmmaker and long-time gay activist John Greyson who wrote an open letter to TIFF and pulled his short film, Covered. Such artists inspire those who stand for social justice everywhere. Look at the solidarity movements taking place in Palestine every day – activists, filmmakers, journalists, and inter-faith members alike who work so hard to raise their voices and even risk their lives for a brighter future.
Accusing the protest of being an “attack on the heart and soul of Israel” is a pathetic attempt to turn the tables and demonize anyone who dares to criticize the Israeli government’s war crimes and illegal military occupation. Such protests should encourage dialogue, not lousy ad hominem attacks. Open your ears and hearts for once, and listen!
Toronto Declaration – Co-sign.
Peace and Solidarity.