J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement today:
J Street applauds the Toronto International Film Festival for choosing Tel Aviv for its inaugural City-to-City spotlight. Israel’s growing and internationally recognized film industry, centered in Tel Aviv, is rightly a source of pride for many Israelis and Americans. Through their art, Israeli filmmakers are presenting the world with a rich picture of Israel’s complex and layered society that goes deeper than simplistic headlines. We find protests and criticism of the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to showcase Tel Aviv’s film industry shameful and shortsighted. The cause of peace will not be served by demonizing Israeli film and filmmakers as being part of the “Israeli propaganda campaign.” In fact, anyone who actually watches popular Israeli films would know that the films are often vigorously critical of Israeli government policy. Some critics say their objection is to the Israeli government’s role in promoting the films and not the films themselves. Israel, like many other European governments, supports its film industry financially and does not employ any political litmus test to determine which films receive funding. It is almost as if critics would have us believe that Benjamin Netanyahu personally selected these films for maximum propaganda effect. That, of course, is false and absurd. We were also dismayed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s co-director’s statement that Tel Aviv is “contested ground.” Anyone that questions Tel Aviv’s legitimacy as an Israeli city either needs a geography lesson or doesn’t believe in the two-state solution, which is the only way to secure Israel as a Jewish democracy and provide the Palestinians with a state of their own. We urge those protesting Tel Aviv’s selection to reconsider their actions. We also call upon the Toronto International Film Festival to hold strong with their selection and not be drawn into a political fight.