What if you pulled your film out of a film festival but your open letter explaining your reasons omitted numerous pertinent facts?
John Greyson teaches film at York University in Toronto. He is also a prolific Canadian filmmaker whose subject matter often touches on gay themes (he is openly gay) and he is politically active for a number of causes. He also writes boycott letters to film festivals.
Last year, for example, he refused to participate in the Tel Aviv LGBT Festival, hurting the organizers’ feelings (really, there’s a Youtube video where Yair Hochner, the Festival’s director shows how hurt he was by this move by Greyson) with his excuse that because of the conflict with the Palestinians, he couldn’t bring his film to their festival. Well, to be more precise, he accused Israel of apartheid and claimed that he was boycotting this festival because it reminded him of how effective boycotting South Africa had been. More on that letter later in this long post.
A few days ago Greyson made some news in Canada because this time he decided to withdraw a short film (if you click and watch it, please leave him a polite comment) he had directed from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The TIFF is one of the world’s best and biggest film fests and this year they decided to create a new program called City to City, “to take a closer look at global cities through a cinematic lens, especially cities where film contributes to or chronicles social change in compelling ways.” For their first city they chose Tel Aviv.
John Greyson announced in an open letter that he was withdrawing his film and boycotting TIFF. He said many things in his letter, but among them was that the TIFF was serving as a propaganda vehicle for Israel. Cameron Bailey, the curator of the City to City program wrote an open letter in response where he specifically rejected claims made by Greyson and some media outlets that the decision to program Tel Aviv as the first city was made in partnership or via influence of other (i.e., Israel or wealthy media organizations affiliated or owned by Jews). Bailey writes, “Contrary to rumours or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions. We value that independence and would never compromise it.”
Aside from the funny way in which Canadians spell rumor, I felt that Mr. Bailey’s response to Greyson didn’t cover sufficient territory and that in fairness to Greyson’s strong letter, his comments to the festival required a better response. What I mean to say is that I consider what Greyson had done to be shameful and after watching his short film on Sarajevo, the one which he withdrew from TIFF, I felt that his actions deserve a response. I tried to write it in the same non-linear style he used to edit his movie and to honor his metier, I’ve given myself 24, uh, frames, in which to make my points.
1. John Greyson makes a film about censorship and absence of free speech and then seeks to apply pressure on a film festival to practice censorship and kill free speech.
Make no mistake, his boycott is made to pressure TIFF and any other film festival that would consider programming Israeli cinema that they will be faced with controversy and general insults in the media and on the internet.
2. John Greyson’s film, Covered, a short film with no particular distinguishing qualities (in my humble opinion) which tells the sad tale of a new “queer” (his description) film festival in Sarajevo that was crushed primarily by hostility of a certain population. The film, which briefly mentions that the festival was accused by its opponents of running during Ramadan, arguably covers up for the culprits by skimming over their identities and their actions.
The film will receive far more attention as a result of his actions than it would at TIFF. It seems that attacking Israel is a good maneuver these days if you’re going to generate publicity. Greyson rejects the notion of “Brand Israel” but has no difficulty riding Israel to generate “Brand Greyson.” Of course, letters like his, full of omissions and half truths are the reason Israel need a Brand Israel campaign in the first place.
3. John Greyson uses phrases like “Gaza massacre” “viral growth of the totalitarian security wall” “further enshrining of the check-point system” without even attempting to seek balance or fairness, such as he demands in his movie, for example, from the Canadian ambassador who was in Sarajevo and who didn’t return his call (John Greyson must be a very important person indeed, expecting ambassadors to return his calls immediately).
Examples of fairness in this case would be to mention the several thousand rockets and mortars that were fired at Israeli civilian communities before Israel finally attacked Gaza. He could mention that Israel left Gaza en masse years ago, for example, and instead of building parks and schools, first the PA and then Hamas built tunnels and smuggled arms while firing rockets into Israel. He could mention the consistent Palestinian attempts, every time Israel opened one of the Gaza crossings, to smuggle terrorists through. I could go on, but the list is too long.
After the break, 21 more…and they get better!
4. This happened after the PA demanded that when Israel left Gaza, that not a single Jew would be left there. Gaza is Jew-free!
There are, however, Arabs living in Tel Aviv. Legal residents. Citizens who can vote in Israeli elections. They own businesses, send their children to school and university and lead normal lives. Greyson must know this because he has been to Tel Aviv. Instead of acknowledging these simple facts, he quotes the false assertion of a filmmaker by the name of Udi Aloni (son of Shulamit Aloni perhaps?) who claimed Tel Aviv is “the only city in the west without Arab residents.”
Hyperbole trumps truth, Mr. Greyson? It is Gaza that is without any Jews, just like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, while Tel Aviv has many Arabs who live within its boundaries.
5. Which leads us to some other details Mr. Greyson’s letter to the TIFF omits. The security situation that forced Israel to build its Security Barrier is one prime example. Another example would be the security difficulties that forced Israel to build more checkpoints.
Why was there a security situation? One could blame Israel, settlers, wars or whatever. What one can’t deny, however, is that this difficult security situation followed Israel’s offer to the Palestinians of a Palestinian state in 2000.
Then, in 2001, right after a second, aborted, peace offer by the Israelis that was far more generous than the previous year’s offer, the Palestinian war became even more intensive with hundreds of Israeli civilians (not soldiers) being targeted and murdered intentionally by suicide bombings.
There is an easily provable correlation between the decline of those successful attacks and the construction of the Barrier, the increase in checkpoints and the closure of once-open gateways of passage like those between Gaza and Israel.
None of this pertinent information appears in Mr. Greyson’s harangue of the TIFF. He is worried about “Brand Israel.”
6. Who was being protected by these security arrangements that Greyson criticizes? It was not settlers living in territories to which Mr. Greyson refers as “Palestinian.” Most Palestinian attacks targeted Israelis inside the 1967 borders, not inside the territories. Large cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were key targets of these attacks. Put another way, the city which TIFF is exploring in its festival was a direct victim of the very terrorism that led to the security arrangements Greyson denounces.
7. Who committed the attacks? The Palestinians. Virtually all of the attackers share a similar profile, by the way, with the people who threatened and successfully shut down the film festival in Greyson’s film. Young men. Mostly Muslim. Devoutly religious or easily influenced by the devoutly religious. Willing to target innocent people and harm them.
8. What was offensive to Greyson in Sarajevo, however, is not offensive when it involves Israel. There he thinks that he should support those who commit atrocities even if they’re far worse than those attacks committed in Sarajevo. He’s concerned himself with presenting the unfortunate silence involving the threats and violence that had a gay and lesbian film festival shut down, but instead of recognizing that Israel is under real threat by the same people, when it comes to Israel/Tel Aviv he shifts the blame and connects the violence and its source to Israel.
Is he confused? He can’t be, because as an openly gay man he knows that Israel is a society that is far more open to gays than most societies in the world. It is far more open than Palestinian society is to homosexuals.
9. He may not be confused, but his behavior is confusing. He can refuse to attend a gay and lesbian film festival in Tel Aviv, as he did last year, but when he wrote to the organizers to say he wasn’t coming, why did he say that he is looking forward to meeting them in Ramallah in the future? Does he think Ramallah will be holding a Pride parade soon? Does he think Israeli queers will be safe there the way Palestinian queers are safe in Tel Aviv?
10. If not, then why is he not boycotting Palestinian films? He could, for example, boycott TPFF, the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, for his disappointment that Palestinian society hurts members of the gay community to an extent that some have to flee into Israel, where they have been accepted and given legal residence.
He is a board member of TPFF, by the way.
Is it possible Mr. Greyson is promoting Palestinian propaganda? Is he promoting Brand Palestine?
11. At the very least, Greyson could acknowledge that Israeli society is far more open to queers than Ramallah and that Tel Aviv is the center of this openness.
12. Why is Tel Aviv the center of this openness? Well, because Tel Aviv really is a “vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic young city…” just as the TIFF said in marketing the City to City program.
13. Tel Aviv is also commemorating its centennial after having been founded literally as a suburb of an Arab town (with a Jewish population), Jaffa, on lands that were purchased by Jews and developed by Jews. It was built on dunes. It was built legally. It was built as part of a dream to establish a democratic state for the Jewish people.
When the Palestinians refused the 1947 UN plan to partition Palestine (not the state, as Greyson knows, since such a state has never existed, but the southern part of the Syrian province of the Ottoman empire which was named Palestine by the Romans), that plan included Jaffa, next door to Tel Aviv at the time, as one of the cities that would remain in Palestinian hands. There was no mention of doing this to Tel Aviv because it was already the leading city of the Jewish community of Palestine. Its Jewish provenance and history were indisputable.
Even today, when the world does not accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it is Tel Aviv where they establish their embassies.
14. So what is Mr. Greyson saying? That this city is illegitimate? Isn’t that the same as saying that Israel is illegitimate?
Is he saying that it isn’t a young and vibrant city?
Is he saying that Tel Aviv doesn’t deserve celebration for being such an extraordinary source of art, culture, literature, music and film?
15. Well, in the letter to the film festival in Tel Aviv, he brought up apartheid. Of course, having been to Tel Aviv, he must know the mix of people of all skin colors, backgrounds, races, etc. who live there side by side and in peace.
So no, I suspect that’s not what he’s saying.
He is saying that one can’t celebrate these positive things about Tel Aviv while the Palestinians are suffering. That people should apply pressure on Israel through boycotts and censorship to end the Palestinian suffering.
16. In that case, perhaps Mr. Greyson should read recent news reports. In those he would learn that Israel offered the Palestinians a state once again last year, in 2008.
This time, they even offered to turn the key areas of Jerusalem under dispute into an international city, dominated by neither the Israelis or the Palestinians. Presumably, they also offered all that was offered at Taba. This would include removal of the settlers on 97% of the West Bank land and giving the Palestinians land within Israel for the other 3%. This would include agreement to offer the Palestinians tens of billions of dollars in reparations. This would include giving the right to some refugees (from the real generation of refugees, the first one), to move into Israel.
There’s more that was offered, but what is more important is that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, refused the offer, just as they did in 2001 at Taba.
To remind John Greyson, they also refused the offers of 2000, 1947 and 1937. In every instance that they refused a state, they were involved in violent actions. This is true of the 2000 Palestinian War, the 1947 attacks that preceded the 1948 war launched by the Arabs and the 1936-1939 Arab riots.
17. The Palestinians didn’t stop there. When Obama was elected, Abbas was quoted as saying he had no intention of negotiating for peace with Israel. He would wait. One of his aides suggested that the Palestinians believed such a tactic would destroy the present Israeli government within two years because it would create deep friction between Israel and the USA.
Great plan for peace!
Mr. Greyson then decides to support Palestinians by applying pressure on Israel! Shouldn’t the pressure be applied on those who would “wait?”
18. And the Palestinians didn’t stop there either. The organization that leads the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, is Fatah. Fatah just had one of their most important gatherings ever, their Sixth Congress, where they voted on their future direction.
If Mr. Greyson has read about this incredible congress, he should. He would learn that,
– they voted to KEEP the refugee camps open, because they are an asset in the “struggle.”
– They voted to maintain the right to violent struggle against Israel.
– They did not change the part of their charter that claims Jews have no historic connection to Israel (of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls disprove this claim easily, but Greyson prefers to call them “notorious” instead of addressing their importance).
– Fatah also voted to bring into their fold one of the key terror groups involved in many of the suicide bombing and other attacks on Israeli civilians that have taken place in the last decade.
– They voted to build up their attempts to have the international community boycott Israel.
Is Mr. Greyson aware of this? I would think he probably is, being on the TPFF’s board. Need I mention Brand Palestine again?
19. The positions taken by Abbas, the PA and Fatah raise interesting questions. With whom should Israel make peace? How is a boycott going to improve the situation? If an Israeli government offers the Palestinians a state with extremely fair terms such as the internationalization of the key sections of Jerusalem and giving up 100% of Gaza, 97% of the West Bank (and replacing the other 3% with land inside Israel), then why is Mr. Greyson not applying pressure on the Palestinians to accept?
I realize that’s a nasty word and I apologize. However, what other conclusion can there be when Mr. Greyson seeks to censor the TIFF and then writes in his letter:
“For instance, I’m helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film Festivalâ€¦that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. Technically, the film probably qualifies as meeting the technical criteria of boycott –not because it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker, but because it received Israeli state funding. Yet all concerned have decided that this film should be seen by Toronto audiences…”
When the material suits Mr. Greyson’s politics and personal views, then the ends justify the means…even if the means directly contradict what he is seeking to force the TIFF to do.
Greyson complains about propaganda but has no problem engaging others in propaganda he considers appropriate.
21. There’s also a little lesson there. The state funding Greyson mentions, that is Israeli state funding for a movie that is heavily critical of Israel, is emblematic of much of the cinema made in Israel, isn’t it? Israel doesn’t shy away from supporting critical filmmakers, including ones who are not Israeli Jews.
Yet Greyson’s call is to boycott this democratic and open cinema.
22. Mr. Greyson must have seen Eytan Fox’s The Bubble, being shown at the TIFF this year as part of City to City. It is a film dealing with queers falling in love, one Palestinian and one Jewish Israeli, while criticizing both the Israeli and the Palestinian societies for their respective failures. That film is being boycotted by Greyson.
However, bringing out to the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival a film that is critical of Israel without providing the complexity, balance and fair depiction of Israeli and Palestinian societies shown in The Bubble is not a problem for Greyson.
Is it because he happens to be on that other film festival’s board? Or is it that the ends justify the means, even if one has to fudge issues like, you know, fairness, along the way?
23. Attempting to stifle and censor the TIFF while using a film about censorship to make one’s point is either a poorly thought out stunt or one that engages in hypocrisy. I have a feeling that were I to go through the past festivals where Greyson has shown films without reservation, I will find many where films from countries that are engaged in extreme and ongoing human rights violations have been shown.
Yet here he has chosen to boycott a festival spotlighting a place that represents openness, free speech, democracy, liberal values, freedom of sexual expression and that’s probably also the heartland of the peace movement in Israel.
24. Minimally, Mr. Greyson’s approach is confusing and mistaken. Yet, he seems to be very knowledgeable about the topic. That raises the possibility, supported by the indications in this movie and his letter to the TIFF and maybe even more so by the many pertinent omissions in his movie and letter, that his effort to boycott the TIFF may be cynical. Meaning well is not enough, and seeking peace and justice is not going to be achieved by omission of pertinent facts or by self-serving, exploitative boycotts.
UPDATE! In a later post about the “protest” letter written by seven artists and writers, including John Greyson, to TIFF, I may have stumbled upon the organization with which Greyson was working when writing this letter. It makes for interesting reading…
UPDATE (Feb, 2010): John Greyson is in boycott mode once again
For more Jewlicious reading about this:
The PA did not change its charter as per their Oslo obligations. This was recently publicly confirmed before the Fatah conference by two of Fatah’s leaders including Dahlan.