by T. Litvin
Special to VJ

I cannot seem to walk into Starbucks for a cup of coffee without hearing about the horrific sins of the Israeli people. As far as I can comprehend, the main problem is the fact that Israel seems to refuse to lie down and die quietly, enduring suicide bombings, rocket attacks and slaughter with the quiet air of dignity and submission. The latest crime painted by the mainstream media comes to us in the form of a letter written by a number of ‘artists and activists’ protesting the Toronto Film Festival’s choice to showcase Tel Aviv in its new ‘City to City’ program.

The letter claims that the Toronto Film Festival is complicit in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of an apartheid regime. This accusation would be amusing if it were not so dangerous. The letter goes on to state that the City to City program is lacking diversity due to the “lack of Palestinian filmmakers in the program…..’ and claims that ‘Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages…  Looking at Tel Aviv without…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.”

Many discussions regarding Israel and the policies of the country are extremely emotional; this one is merely factual. It astounds me that more than 60 artists, activists and respected members of the international film community would sign a letter without checking the facts of the matter first. In fact, Jane Fonda admitted that she signed the letter without even fully reading its contents. In her letter of ‘explanation’ (not, God-forbid, apology,) she states: “I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue…Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart.” She continues and says: “The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city “built on destroyed Palestinian villages,” … and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on Israel…”

I want to scoff. I want to say ‘Wait, you mean Israel did not just wake up one day and randomly decide to attack innocent people? The Palestinians DID something?’ Gasp.

There are millions of people in this world who are not even at fault for feeling this way, seeing as this is what the popular view is in the media. Your average American today does not know that entering Gaza was years in the making, and that Israel repeatedly warned Hamas to stop sending rockets on Israeli towns or they would face retaliation. Show me another government in the world who would spend years warning a neighbouring country to stop bombing them before they react? And yet, the Israelis do. Then they warn that they are going in. And as they do they actually send leaflets and telephone Gazans to tell them when they will be attacking! And when they do go in, they bring humanitarian aid. And this is the country that millions of educated, well-meaning, sincere people are calling an apartheid state.

Someone, for the love of God, invest in a dictionary. Then we’ll talk.

It is perfectly understandable to me that people react to the atrocious living conditions in Gaza. Someone should write a letter protesting against Hamas and the heads of the Palestinian people who mutilate every Israeli peace offer by refusing to stand by what they continually promise: that they will stop attacking the Israeli people. THAT letter I will sign.

Thanks to the mainstream media and the continuous web of fabrications that they weave, Israeli retaliation to Palestinian terror has been branded unacceptable and unforgivable. The public is not interested in the reasons behind or events leading up to Israel’s response. They’ve seen the pictures. And so have I. I am not about to sit and contest the fact that Gaza appears to be nothing but a dark hellhole. I pity every child that has to grow up there. As if their living conditions are not difficult enough, they are being raised in a cesspool of hatred that exists solely to breed more hatred. They are taught not to question, but to accept, not to create, but to destroy. They will be discriminated against if they are female, gay, handicapped, or reject the opinions handed down by fanatics whose life’s goal is to breed hatred and unrest.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici addressed the following remarks to John Greyson, who initiated the boycott when he stated that he would withdraw his film to protest Israel’s “brutal” military assault on Gaza earlier this year. “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.” Mr. Jacobvici makes a cogent point.

Indeed, the supreme irony of this entire boycott is the fact that Israel is the only country in the entire region of the Middle East in which such a festival could be held. It’s the only country in the region where films are made freely and without censorship, where creative expression is a reality, and not a far off dream being suppressed by radical voices. The true tragedy here is the fact that people who claim they are trying to boycott oppression are the very same ones causing oppression for the Jewish people. The general opinion on the Jewish people and Israel is not great at the best of times, but anti-Israel sentiment is growing at an alarming pace as the recent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide will attest.

Today many people will tell you they have nothing against Jews or even Israelis, but it’s ‘those Zionists’ that they are opposing. Just ask Ahmadinejad.

The veil that is the word Zionist is a convenient way to mask the word Semite. It’s what enabled Ahmadinejad to garner applause from many moderate countries after his poisonous anti-Israel speech at the UN last year. Judaism and Zionism cannot be separated, and pretending that they can be is offensive.

Let’s recap. We now live in a world where the leader of Iran can openly call for the destruction of Israel. Yet Tel Aviv cannot hold a film festival without a group of artists and activists’ screaming from the rooftops about Israel’s alleged oppression of the Palestinian people. This is neither acceptable nor logical, and it is absolutely dangerous and detrimental to the Jewish people.

In the expansion on her statement, Jane Fonda explained that really, the problem comes down to a matter of narratives. She breaks it down to the fact that one narrative sees 1948 as the birth of a nation while the other sees it as “the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Conceivably it was both.” The beautiful conclusion she reaches is: “Neither can be erased, both must be heard.”

While it would appear that neither narrative can be erased, narratives can most certainly be fabricated. I plead that you look at historical facts, and not such a tainted representation of them. Acclaimed film producer Thomas K. Barad recently responded to his fellow members of the film community in an eloquent letter using facts to refute the statements of the initial protest. The letter is an essential read and contains important information that everyone engaged in this debate should be aware of.

An ever growing phenomenon of anti-Israel propaganda is corroding public opinion to the point where it could prove dangerous. Of course, this too is brushed aside and put down to Jewish paranoia, as Ms. Fonda made sure to include in her ‘explanation.’ “In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region…any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic.”

I have heard the argument before. I have been at many dinners in which educated people I respect have flat out told me that I hold the opinions that I do only because I am Jewish, and that Jews seem to be ultra paranoid when it comes to criticism. My response is ‘Well, you would be pretty paranoid too if half your family was wiped out in the Holocaust.’

Unsubstantiated criticism of the Jewish people is not something to be taken lightly. It doesn’t dissipate. It accumulates and grows and over the centuries, this led to thousands of hate crimes, and what brought on the monstrosities of the Holocaust. Hitler himself never killed a single soul. He did not need to. He had poison. He had words. His propaganda shaped public opinion and in turn inflamed other people to the point that their actions caused death and destruction beyond measure.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Words can be weapons. And this is not about your opinion or my opinion. This is about the sheer distortion of facts that are accepted by the mainstream public. This is about a growing sentiment that paints a vile mask on the state of Israel, one that it has not earned. Every time Israel is referred to as an apartheid state, public opinion is eroded a little bit more. Every time Hamas is not held responsible for the conditions of the Palestinian people and the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we take a step away from the betterment of the region and a step closer to the destruction of Israel. It doesn’t need to be true to be dangerous.

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