Vanessa Redgrave

I was surprised to read in Haaretz the other day that Redgrave had protested the TIFF declaration protesting shining a spotlight on Tel Aviv. The letter – with two other signatories – is pretty ridiculous. For example, it says this:

“The protesters use the term “apartheid regime.” We oppose the current Israeli government, but it is a government. Freely elected. Not a regime. Words matter.”

Okay. Paragraph two of the TIFF Declaration: “In 2008, the Israeli government and…”

The apartheid regime to which the letter refers, is citing Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and the former head of the UNGA, Brockman. Redgrave et al say that the apartheid regime to which they refer is a freely elected government. No, it is not: the apartheid regime is that which rules over the West Bank and Gaza. It is freely elected, if by free elections they mean: citizens of Israel are allowed to vote, but non-citizens in the West Bank and Gaza cannot vote.

Consider the next substantive issue: Tel Aviv. The Declaration says:

The emphasis on ‘diversity’ in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

Okay, so the issue is that Tel Aviv is being glamourised by the festival, without discussing its history: no different to saying that (say) a celebration of the bicentennary in Australia should acknowledge the impact of colonisation on indigenous Australians. How do Redgrave et al respond?

Are they implying that Tel Aviv should not exist? At least not in its present form? Which would mean that the State of Israel (the original State of Israel, not including the occupied territories) should not exist. Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist. How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?

Of course, they are implying no such thing. They are simply suggesting that celebrating colonisation and ignoring the indigenous population is callous and unjust. But note also: Palestinians have been killed (no, they have died: perhaps of heart problems or tornadoes) because Israel thinks the Arabs don’t want Israel to exist. Can any other reasons be imagined why thousands of Palestinians have “died”? Note that in this rubric, opposition to Zionism causes Palestinian deaths. This is probably to the right (or perhaps equal to) Netanyahu’s view of the conflict.

They end by saying: “We hope that those who protest Israeli inclusion in film festivals will take note of this example of the power of art freely expressed and available to all, and reconsider their position.” The declaration, though, said: “
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.” Okay, so it’s kind of not the same thing. The declaration protested what was reported in the Canadian Press – that this was an attempt of creating “Brand Israel”, where Tel Aviv was to represent a sunny happy place, and create an image of Israel unrelated to its conflict with the Palestinians. The declaration protested celebrating 100 years of diversity, without mentioning the Palestinians.

Okay, so that’s Redgrave and co. Angry Arab will be most displeased: I wonder if he’ll stop saying “Zionist hoodlums” in protest.

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