It is good that the Toronto International Film Festival is standing up against an attempt to intimidate it by a group of artists and writers who oppose the festival's 10-film series from Tel Aviv. In trying to treat Israel as a pariah among nations, the group would scorn anyone who does not accept its one-sided worldview. Capitulation to these self-appointed censors should not be an option.
The protest group - Canadian documentarian John Greyson and writer Naomi Klein, U.S. novelist Alice Walker, British filmmaker Ken Loach and more than 60 others - begins with a smear of the festival's leadership. Intentionally or not, it says, TIFF "has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine." But what has TIFF done? It has started a program called City to City, with the stated goal of taking "a closer look at global cities through a cinematic lens, especially cities where film contributes to or chronicles social change in compelling ways." Tel Aviv is its inaugural global city. The 10 films include Jaffa, about a Jew and her Arab childhood sweetheart "pulled apart by fate"; Bena, about a father trying to keep his schizophrenic son out of an institution; and Big Eyes, about the local counterculture. This is propaganda?
The answer from the protesters is an extreme sophistry: To highlight films from Tel Aviv is akin to "rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid." Do not touch Israel, they are saying to all the film and arts festivals, anywhere in the world. It is to be shunned. Mr. Greyson has pulled his documentary from the festival.
TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey responded to the smear against his festival in a reply on its website: "As the programmer of City To City, I was attracted to Tel Aviv ... because the films made there explore and critique the city from many different perspectives." He stressed that the decision was the festival's alone. "We value that independence and would never compromise it. . . . We will continue to screen the best films we can find from around the world."
Free expression cannot exist in an atmosphere of intimidation. By refusing to be cowed, TIFF has stood up for artists everywhere.