Try putting the shoe on the other foot. What if, this time next year, TIFF’s City-to-City program featured new films from Los Angeles? And these films starred or were directed by Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover?
Surely there would be protests against this decision. Consider the U.S. record of militarism. Our economic mistreatment of smaller economies. Our deplorable record on environmental pollution. Our many states with death penalties — one of them, Texas, executing more people than the rest of the free world combined. Since Belafonte, Fonda, Mortenson, Christie and Klein live in America, surely they are culpable? And surely they should be boycotted? And since the U.S. is the most active supporter of Israel in the world, surely they would protest against themselves?
Of course not. They would expect to be judged as individuals, as artists, not simply as Americans. Their protest at TIFF is opportunistic, knee-jerk and careless. It allows its participants, themselves artists, to grandstand at a cost to other artists.
Last week, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word â€œteshuvaâ€â€“ to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by â€œcoming with a sincere heart. Words that come from the heart enter the heart.â€
Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city â€œbuilt on destroyed Palestinian villages,â€ for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamasâ€™s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza.
The Israeli-Palestinian story cannot be reduced to a simplistic aggressor-victim relationship. In order to fully understand this, one must be willing to come together with an open heart and really hear the narratives of both sides. One narrative sees 1948 as the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Another sees it as the birth of a nation. Conceivably it was both. Neither narrative can be erased, both must be heard.