Toronto International Film Festival Celebrates Israeli colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid!
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is gravely concerned that the Toronto InternationalFilm Festival 2009 (TIFF) has decided to spotlight Tel Aviv for its inauguralCity-to-City program. We encourage filmmakers and audiences to boycott theSpotlight as it extends a gesture of “goodwill” to a colonial and apartheidregime which is violating Palestinian human rights with utterimpunity.
According to program notes by Festival co-director andCity-to-City programmer Cameron Bailey, the City-to-City programme “willshowcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto,celebrates its diversity.”
The ‘diversity’ celebrated by the Spotlight is in fact basedon the erasure of the physical presence of the Palestinians, their culture,heritage and memory. The adjacent Palestinian city of Jaffa and numerousvillages were emptied of their indigenous inhabitants to make way for Tel Aviv.Many refugees from Jaffa and other destroyed villages that Tel Aviv replacedreside in Toronto today, denied the right to return to their homes.
To celebrate Tel Aviv or any Israeli city for that matter isindefensible, particularly after this year's lethal assault on Gaza, whileIsrael continues building its illegal Apartheid wall and settlements andextends its network of checkpoints that suffocate the Palestinianpopulation. Most recently, in the Israeli war of aggression on theoccupied Gaza Strip, Palestinian civilians were massacred by Israel’sindiscriminate bombing, condemned by UN experts and leading human rightsorganizations as war crimes. This assault left over 1,440 Palestinians dead,predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5380. The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelmingmajority of whom are refugees who were violently expelled from their homes byZionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israelistate terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas,reduced whole neighbourhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble andpartially destroyed scores of schools, including several run by the UN, wherecivilians were taking shelter. This came after 18 months of an ongoing,crippling Israeli siege of Gaza, a severe form of collective punishmentdescribed by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights as “a prelude togenocide.”
Such a celebration at this time, therefore, can only be seenby Palestinians and supporters of a just peace around the world as an act ofcomplicity in whitewashing Israel’s war crimes and other grave violations ofinternational law. It is a cynical and immoral politicization of theTIFF.
TIFF has argued that the Festival’s focus is on cities andnot nation-states. Tel Aviv is the seat of Israeli political and economicpower. It houses the masterminds of Israel’s longstanding policies of ethniccleansing, racial discrimination and military subjugation. It is moreemblematic of apartheid and colonial rule than any other Israeli city. TheSpotlight on Tel Aviv is akin to celebrating Sun City during apartheid-eraSouth Africa.
This inaugural City-to-City program is receiving funding forfilmmaker participation through the Israel Film Fund, an Israeli public bodythat receives state funding and support, and which is part and parcel of theIsraeli effort to normalize Israel’s presence in the global culturalarena.
In 2008, Toronto was selected as a ‘test market’ for ayear-long public relations campaign launched by the Israeli Ministry of ForeignAffairs to improve Israel’s image. Israel's consul general, AmirGissin, announced then that the culmination of this ‘Brand Israel’ campaignwould be at the TIFF 
TIFF has claimed that the Spotlight on Tel Aviv has norelationship to the rebranding campaign but have not issued a public statementto that effect. Whether the City-to-City program is officiallyconnected to the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign or not, it is rebranding to the core:it serves to normalize Israel’s international image, an image tarnished bydecades of military brutality and violations of internationallaw.
TIFF has a proud history of supporting independent andprogressive filmmakers. It must not become yet another tool for Israel'sapartheid public relations machine.
 Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008). http://www.cjnews.com/