For Canadian Jews, Canada has been a malchus shel chesed for the last fifty years or so. Jews have been treated as full and equal citizens since the early 1960's and have served in prominent private and public positions throughout the country and otherwise fully participated in Canadian life. Unlike our European and South American brethren, our synagogues and community centres are not fortified buildings with high tech security. We are able to educate our children as we see fit and worship as we want. Holocaust denial is a de facto crime. Best of all, the current prime minister is vocally pro-Israel, a welcome change from generations of leaders who were concerned about moral equivalence when it came to matters in the Middle East.
But beneath the glossy veneer, there is still the ugly phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Many times it lurks quietly and out of sight. Other times it forces itself into full public view. This has happened once again with the imminent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Despite being a cultural backwater (beer, hockey, moose 'n' beavers, eh?) there are some amazing cultural events in Canada, prime amongst them the TIFF. Rivalled the Cannes festival for size and importance, it's a great chance each year to wander through downtown Toronto in the hopes of catching a glimpse of someone famous or seeing an artsy film that probably will never be released commercially.
This year the TIFF went further and decided to try a new concept, that of featuring a particular international city. Their choice was Tel Aviv due to that city celebrating its 100th anniversary. Tel Aviv and Toronto have a lot in common. Both are home to people from all over the world, both are cosmopolitan and liberal cities that act as the commercial and financial centres of their countries. It would seem a natural fit.
Unfortunately in the eyes of the so-called progressive and enlightened glitterati, this honour is the equivalent of a war crime:
The signatories of a new letter accusing the Toronto International Film Festival of becoming "complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine" run the gamut from an Oscar-winning actress to a rabble-rousing author to a Talking Head.
More than 50 people have added their name to what's being called The Toronto Declaration, including musician David Byrne, actors Danny Glover and Jane Fonda, and author Alice Walker.
The letter, drafted by a committee that includes Canadian writer Naomi Klein and Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, is the latest move in a controversy that began when Canadian director John Greyson withdrew his short documentary, Covered, from the festival last week. The veteran filmmaker is protesting the festival's inaugural City to City Spotlight on Tel Aviv, a 10-movie program that TIFF's website promises will "explore the evolving urban experience while presenting the best documentary and fiction films from and about a selected city." This year is Tel Aviv's 100th anniversary.
Greyson penned an open letter to festival co-directors Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey, as well as to Noah Cowan, artistic director of the under-construction Bell Lightbox, blasting the initiative.
The declaration states that while the signatories are not protesting the individual filmmakers participating in the program and do not seek to exclude Israeli films from the festival, "in the wake of this year's brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime."
One of the blessings I, along with my contemporaries, have received from God is to live without fear of being a Jew. Being made to feel like "the other", being in fear of getting attacked on the street without recourse to protection from the law, being discriminated and told I cannot do something because I am a Jew, all these are things I have no experience with. Unlike my parents who grew up in such an environment, I have a sense of security when I walk down the street with my kippah in full view.
Yet around me are people whose attitudes hearken back to those of the bad ol' days of yore. Yees, yes, they say they have no problem with Jews, only with Israel. In fact, they have lots of Jewish friends who are also (strictly coincidental) anti-Israel. Therefore they are not anti-Semites.
I wonder though. If the TIFF had chosen to honour Beijing (China occupies Tibet) or Moscow (Russia occupies Ossetia and Chechnya), would Danny Glover, Hanoi Jane and John Greyson have had such a problem? Would filmmakers be withdrawing their films in protest? Would a single Hollywood celebrity have signed a petition if an actual tyranny had been honoured instead of the only democracy in the Middle East and the only one in which the preferred company of this crowd - socialist fanatics and radical homosexuals - are able to openly express their views without fear of being lynched?
Somehow I doubt it. Their concern is with Israel and Israel alone. For Darfur they'll give lip service. For the Congo, they'll say they're concerns. But for a terrorist nation that is trying to destroy Israel? For that they'll sign petitions and make sure everyone knows!
As producer Simcha Jacobovici notes:
"Frankly, I think there's no other word but anti-Semitism. I don't know if they're doing it consciously or unconsciously, I want to make that clear, but the idea that anything that Israel does is by definition illegitimate, and anything that the other side does is by definition legitimate, what do you call that?"
This is Jew-hatred, plain and simple. The only way to deal with it is to aggresively refute the lies they continue to cloak themselves with. These people are anti-Semites and do not deserve the civilized appearance that society continues to give them.