This Time It’s Not Funny!
This Time It’s Not Funny!
Abstract and Keywords
In this chapter, the author criticizes Jewish international celebrities who published a counterdeclaration to the Toronto Declaration, of which he is a codrafter along with Naomi Klein, John Greyson, and other artists and intellectuals. The Toronto film festival 2009 dedicated its City to City project to Tel Aviv. This was a result of fruitful cooperation between the festival and the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs as part of their effort to “brand” Israel as an enlightened and liberal country. A group of artists and intellectuals organized by Klein published the Toronto Declaration pleading that the festival withdraw from this initiative and that artists protest against the political use of art. The author comments on the cooperation between some artists and the Israeli propaganda machine and calls on all the Jewish artists in North America, Israel, and elsewhere to ask why the image of an Israeli soldier, agonizing and crying, is so appealing to festival curators and audiences of the Western world.
The Toronto film festival 2009 dedicated its City to City project to Tel Aviv. This was a result of fruitful cooperation between the festival and the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs as part of their effort to “brand” Israel as an enlightened and liberal country. A group of artists and intellectuals organized by Naomi Klein published the Toronto Declaration pleading that the festival withdraw from this initiative and that artists protest against the political use of art. After over fifteen hundred artists joined the declaration, among them Ken Loach, John Grayson, Danny Glover, David Byrne, and Jane Fonda. The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles organized a counterdeclaration, which was signed by Sacha Baron Cohen, Jerry Seinfeld, and others.
Jewish international celebrities, from Jerry Seinfeld to Sasha Baron Cohen, have come out once again, riding the horses of glory, to save Israel from the cruel enemy that is to save Israel from us, those fighting for human rights. They have published a counterdeclaration to the Toronto Declaration. The latter, of which I am a codrafter along with Naomi Klein, John Greyson, and others, protests the cooperation between the Toronto Film Festival and the rebranding of the State of Israel as an enlightened democratic state (instead of an occupying state). Whoever has read our (p.134) declaration should know that we do not boycott any filmmaker and any Israeli film. We have simply protested the festival’s choice, intentional or not, of celebrating Tel Aviv as part of the “Brand Israel” campaign. Therefore I was surprised when the aforementioned celebrities, under the baton of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, attacked us on the basis of statements we had never issued (“blacklisting and censorship”). In fact, we have stated the opposite! One wonders in whose interest it is to circulate, all over the world, the mendacious claim that we are calling for a boycott against Israeli cinema. Who wishes to turn Israel (once more) into a victim?
In view of these false claims, I would like to reiterate: we give our blessing to every good piece of work coming from Israel or any other place in the world. All we asked for was that Israeli filmmakers and other artists not cooperate with Israeli embassies in the branding of Israel. My friends and I have appealed to Israeli artists, thinking that they truly oppose the occupying racist regime in Israel and that they are merely being exploited unwillingly by the state and its ministry of foreign affairs. However, it now seems that cooperation between some artists and the Israeli propaganda machine is closer than we thought. Shmulik Maoz did not hesitate to attack Jane Fonda for the boycott that she had allegedly declared against Israeli cinema (although he knows we have stated explicitly that we would not boycott any person), but he did not say a word when Minister of Culture Limor Livnat, known for her right-wing views, called him and his fellow artists, upon his being awarded the Venice Film Festival prize, “the best ambassadors of the State of Israel.”
At the exciting moment when he received the Golden Lion Prize in Venice, Shmulik Maoz did not dedicate his film Lebanon to the victims of that criminal war, the product of the Israeli government’s arrogant and violent brain. Nor did he ask forgiveness for his participation in the war. Nor did he speak of the Palestinians who are still suffering under a terrible occupation at the hands of the same army with which Shmulik had served in Lebanon. He dedicated his film to soldiers all over the world who return from battle with psychological damage and who have not yet recovered even though they have children and families. That stance recalls another ceremony at which Ari Folman, another soldier-director, whose film Waltz with Bashir won a Golden Globe (alchemists indeed—Israeli soldier-directors turn the trauma of conquering soldiers into pure gold). As Ari himself testifies in Waltz with Bashir, he was a direct or indirect participant in the terrible massacre at Sabra and Shatila. And what did
(p.135) Ari have to say? He too failed to ask forgiveness from the murder victims. Maybe he “only” sent up flares so that others could commit murder, as he claims. Maybe he stood with a machine gun and prevented people from fleeing the slaughter. Who knows? He does not remember anything, and it did not occur to him for a moment to go and ask the real witnesses: the residents of the camps. For Ari, the real testimony was not that of the witnesses; instead he turned to the Israeli military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai. For that same reason, when Ari stood on the stage before millions of people all over the world at the awards ceremony, he did not call for a halt to the slaughter that was going on in Gaza as he spoke, which, like the nightmare described in his film, recurs like a terrible curse. He did not seek forgiveness from the residents of the camps or even express sympathy with their suffering. Instead, he blessed all the children who were born to the crew while the film was being made. Mazel tov indeed!
Listening to the empty speeches by Shmulik Maoz and Ari Folman, I came to realize that they are not haunted by the ghosts of their dead victims but are rather haunted only by the unpleasant images of war and in their art they seek to create some peace for their soul. They wish the images might go away so that they, not their victims, may finally get a good night’s rest. Once more it is all about us. There is no place for the other, it is us and the West that will always be the subject (shooting and crying), while the Arab will continue to participate as nothing but an object. That is why even if the Arab is the slain, even if it is clear that it is he who is the victim, he will remain the object. Not a full person, certainly not sovereign or free.
Open letter to the celebrities who signed the counterdeclaration: many of you have made me laugh countless times, and indeed I love you. Please don’t make a fool of yourself. Fight for the right of a Palestinian director to shoot a film in his homeland as a free man and do not go after those who take part in a legitimate protest. We have no guns or warplanes that may kill women and children without distinction. We do have the right to protest. I expect a public apology from you for your part in the system of lies directed at us, the human rights activists in Israel, by the Israeli embassy in Canada. Personally speaking, I am against all forms of boycott against the arts, regardless of the political view they convey, but it is my right to protest against the cynical use of artists, us in Israel and you, the Jewish American artists. If it is real love of Israel that is in your hearts, please help us end the Occupation, advise us on reaching a worldwide audience, correct us if you think we are overdoing it at times, (p.136) but don’t cooperate with the Occupation itself. It has brought about the destruction of the Palestinian people and it will next bring about our own destruction, since there will be no free Israeli Jew as long as the Palestinian is not free, without the same and equal rights.
You, Shmulik Maoz and Ari Folman, two exceptionally talented artists, you and the rest of the Israeli artists, please join our call, “No Celebration Under Occupation.” The debate about the part your films play in the Israeli propaganda campaign can be interpreted by your actions and declarations, not just through your films.
To conclude, a call to all the Jewish artists in North America, Israel, and elsewhere. I think we should be asking ourselves not why Israeli directors create films about Lebanon (it makes sense that people will deal with their own scabs) and not even why Israel’s government supports these films and uses them for its own aims. The real question is why the image of an Israeli soldier, agonizing and crying, is so appealing to festival curators and audiences of the Western world? When we find the answer to this question, we will be able to comprehend the unreasonable, international sympathy the state of Israel is awarded regardless of its actions, which are perceived by the same West as violent.
Published in Walla online magazine, September 16, 2009.