12 September 2009

Eyes Wide Open at TIFF

I don't usually attend the films at the Toronto International Film Festival, but this year is special. A former student of mine, Merav Doster, wrote the story and original screenplay for Eyes Wide Open (Eynayim Pekukhot), a provocative and moving Israeli entry. Through the minimalist but exceptionally effective direction of Haim Tabakman, Merav tells the story of two ultra-orthodox Jews in a small community in Jerusalem, a butcher and the stranger who enters his shop one rainy day and infiltrates his life, provoking latent homosexual desires. The relationship between the two men is set in counterpoint to the tractate of Talmud the men are studying, about the redemption of a sinner who can eventually resist temptation.

It is an outstanding film. I found it very intense, exceptionally authentic, and most important for this type of film, an understated but unambiguous portrayal of the conflicts and emotions that surround the complex situation of this enclaved community. Merav's story and script are powerful and convey a deep understanding of the human psyche. Director Tabakman's minimalist interpretation, and the actors' strong performances reveal the inherent tensions that engulf this community that is fiercely attempting to shut out uncomfortable contemporary realities.

Speaking about uncomfortable contemporary realities at this year's TIFF, and segueing from the title of the film, filmmaker Robert Lantos weighs in on the controversy surrounding John Greyson's and Naomi Klein's call for a boycott of Israeli films themed on the anniversary of the founding of Tel Aviv. Lantos's rebuke calls for those who would be seduced by the populist anti-Israel propaganda to, indeed, have their eyes wide open about the facts of the matter:
The difference between most people and professional liars is that the latter have no shame. They will proclaim as the gospel truth, without blushing and without the slightest hesitation, any falsehood that serves their cause, no matter how fictitious and regardless of consequences. Lying without shame and without reservations is at the heart of their strategy. They bank on decent people's assumption that when a statement of "fact" is made repeatedly and with emphasis, it must contain a modicum of truth.

This age-old but effective propaganda technique has, as of late, given rise to such blatant falsehoods as "Israeli Apartheid," or, to quote Ms. Klein's open letter to the TIFF [which the Post reported on in "Protesters object to spotlight on Tel Aviv" on Sept. 4], "The city of Jaffa was Palestine's main cultural hub until 1948." This seemingly factual statement fails to mention a little detail: There was no such thing as Palestine prior to 1948. The city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 in a Turkish colony, later a British colony and once upon a time a Roman colony, consisting of lands from which the indigenous Jewish population had been forcefully -- though never fully -- evicted.

The headline of her "open letter" protesting the presence of films by Tel Aviv filmmakers, "No Celebration of Occupation," implies that Tel Aviv is "occupied territory." That is more than just a lie. That is a regurgitation of terrorist slogans. We are not talking about the West Bank or the Golan Heights here. We are talking about the biggest population centre in the heart of Israel, where the first neighborhood was built in 1887. If that is "occupied" or "disputed" territory, then Ms. Klein and her armchair storm troopers are clamouring for nothing short of the annihilation of the Jewish State. They are effectively Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's local fifth column.

...Ironically, this whole "boycott Tel Aviv" affair began over filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdraw his short documentary, Covered, to protest the presence of Israeli films. Mr. Greyson's film documents the disruption, by local homophobes, of the Sarajevo Queer Film Festival. As Mr. Greyson, Ms. Klein and their lynch mob know perfectly well, Israel is the only country in the region where a film such as Mr. Greyson's could be made and shown without government interference, where no one is persecuted or discriminated against because of his or her sexual persuasion. The Klein Brigade obediently kowtows to the party line of autocratic regimes and terrorist organizations who would not hesitate, given the opportunity, to dispatch Mr. Greyson and his film to a painful fate which, regardless of our differences, I would not wish on anyone.

The attack on TIFF and the films from Israel is nothing more than an attempt by a gang of well-fed, fashionable bigots to stifle voices they don't like. They have taken a page straight out of the fascist propaganda handbook. To create an environment in which a religious or ethnic group can be persecuted, it is first necessary to demonize and vilify them to the point that their humanity is in question. In this propaganda campaign, all lies -- no matter how foul -- are fair game.
Lantos rightly says, "enough is enough," not only at TIFF, but at our academic institutions, and those who claim to represent workers, but truly only represent the interests of a select, elite few, (and actively participate in the hatefest that is the so-called Israel Apartheid Week).

For the record: Although I support Israel and Zionism (since history has repeatedly shown - and contemporary circumstances continue to demonstrate - that after 2,000 years Jews are still not safe when hatemongers, including Jewish hatemongers, are given half a chance), I do not agree with the policies of the current Netanyahu government in Israel. Dialogue, proper education, and the creation of opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to actually know each other as people marks the road to peace, security and prosperity for everyone. Klein, Greyson, and their ilk only offer sabotage and the continuity of enmity.

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