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Toronto film festival ignites anti-Israel boycott

TORONTO| Canadian and American filmmakers lashed back Friday at what they described as an " outrageous" boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival by some filmmakers and writers in protest of the event's spotlight on filmmakers from Tel Aviv.

Producer, writer and director David Zucker ("Scary Movie," "Naked Gun," "Airplane!" ) denounced as "left-wing crazies" the individuals who signed a letter called " The Toronto Declaration" to protest Israeli government policies.

Mr. Zucker said he is "outraged" that actors such as Danny Glover and Jane Fonda, along with about 50 other activists, would sign a declaration that condemns Israel as an "apartheid regime" and dismisses the work of Tel Aviv filmmakers as "Israeli propaganda."

The protest of Israel began Aug. 27 when Canadian filmmaker John Greyson released a public letter stating he would withdraw his film from the 10-day festival, which opens Thursday, to protest Israel's "brutal" military assault on Gaza earlier this year.

On Thursday Sept. 3, writer Naomi Klein and others joined Mr. Greyson's protest and issued " The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation."

Mr. Greyson's film, "Covered," is a documentary about violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina that shut down the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici complained that Mr. Greyson is now trying to shut down the voices of filmmakers in the only country in the Middle East that allows free expression.

If Mr. Greyson "were to walk down the streets of Tel Aviv with a sign saying he is a homosexual filmmaker, he would be invited to the Tel Aviv Queer Film Festival. But if he did that in Ramallah or any Palestinian village in the Territories, his films would have to be shown posthumously because they would kill him," said Mr. Jacobovici.

In fact, Mr. Greyson was invited to the Tel Aviv Queer Festival and withdrew another of his films from that event.

Gays in Palestine "flee to Tel Aviv to protect themselves from their brothers who would lynch them," Mr. Jacobovici added.

"As filmmaker Ken Loach eloquently wrote this week in The Guardian, the boycott movement against Israel isn't censorship," countered Mr. Greyson via e-mail.

"It's a legitimate call from Palestinian civil society, asking for non-violent pressure to be brought to bear on Israel to end its human rights abuses. That's what we're doing. Our action doesn't 'censor' it shines a spotlight on the Israeli occupation."

Festival co-director Cameron Bailey said in a statement on the TIFF Web site that Mr. Greyson's protest "isn't against the films or filmmakers we have chosen, but against the spotlight itself.

By that reasoning, no films programmed within this series would have met his approval, no matter what they contained."

Indeed, some of the films in the Tel Aviv " City to City" series are expressly critical of Israeli government policies, noted Mr. Jacobovici, a dual Canadian-Israeli citizen.

"We're not protesting the Israeli films or the filmmakers our target is TIFF's Spotlight on Tel Aviv itself, and specifically its connections to the 'Brand Israel' campaign and the Israeli Consulate, which make the spotlight look and feel like a propaganda exercise," said Mr. Greyson. "

As filmmakers and audiences, we're telling TIFF that eight months since the Gaza massacre, this is no time to be uncritically 'celebrating' Tel Aviv."

Despite his defense of the City to City program which was launched this year to feature the work of a different city's filmmakers each year Mr. Bailey may have unintentionally fanned the controversy when he referred to Tel Aviv as " contested ground" in his statement.

While Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital is considered controversial, Tel Aviv's status as an Israeli city is not.

Earlier this year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival was the target of a boycott effort by British filmmaker Ken Loach, another signatory to the Toronto Declaration, after Mr. Loach demanded the festival return money the Israeli government paid for filmmaker Tali Shalom-Ezer's travel expenses.

The festival did return the money but kept Ms. Ezer's film, "Surrogate," in the program.

"It seems that nothing the Jews do is right and nothing the enemies of the Jews do is wrong," said Mr. Jacobovici.

The idea of an Israeli apartheid is also "a lie," said Mr. Jacobovici, noting that 1 million Palestinians live in Israel (about 20 percent of Israel's population), "while not one Jew lives in the Territories or is even buried there because they have disinterred those bodies."

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