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Cronenberg, Jewison, Oscar-winning rabbi weigh in on TIFF's Israel debate

The tiff at TIFF continues to gather steam.

Fresh salvos were fired Thursday from both sides of the dispute over the Toronto International Film Festival's special spotlight on Tel Aviv and 10 Israeli filmmakers.

On Thursday, heavyweight filmmakers David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison and Ivan Reitman, actors Minnie Driver and Saul Rubinek, as well as one of America's most prominent rabbis, joined the debate.

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All issued separate statements criticizing a group that includes activist Naomi Klein, actors Jane Fonda and Danny Glover and some 60 others. That group last week signed what has become known as the Toronto Declaration. Posted online, it accuses the festival of being the witting or unwitting victim of an Israeli government propaganda effort to polish that nation's image. By singling out Tel Aviv, it says, TIFF has become complicit in what has been called a Brand Israel campaign.

Klein, who has emerged as the de facto spokesperson for the Toronto Declaration group, said in an interview that it had some major show-business names of its own, among them actors Julie Christie, Harry Belafonte and Viggo Mortensen.

All of them, she said, had signed the letter of protest. The group is expected to hold a press conference Monday evening in Toronto with Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, among others.

Meanwhile, Cronenberg said in a statement, "I am against censorship in all its forms. The attempts to stop TIFF's City to City spotlight on Tel Aviv amount to political censorship. I am against it."

Echoing those remarks, Academy Award-winning director Jewison said, "the recent attack on Israeli films at TIFF is an attempt to politicize art and smacks of anti-Semitic bigotry. Let's keep political hatred out of the artistic community. Artists should treat each other with respect and support regardless of religion, colour, or nationality."

Earlier in the day, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and a two-time Oscar winner for documentaries The Long Way Home and Genocide , said Klein, Fonda and Canadian documentary filmmaker John Greyson were parroting the rhetoric of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in challenging Israel's claim to Tel Aviv.

It was Greyson who precipitated the dispute almost two weeks ago by withdrawing his short documentary film from the festival in protest against the Tel Aviv focus.

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"If the protesters were really interested in the propaganda issue," Hier said, "then why does their letter wrongly accuse Israel of being an apartheid state or wrongly claim Tel Aviv is built on former Palestinian villages?" That, he said, "shows you what their real agenda is, the de-legitimization of Israel itself."

Hier arrived in Toronto Thursday from Washington, where he had attended a reception at the home of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. "There were 100 Jewish community leaders there," Hier said, "and all they wanted to talk about was what was happening in Toronto."

However, Klein said Thursday that her group is not making any claims about Tel Aviv and isn't trying to censor anyone. Rather, they find the special focus on Tel Aviv offensive, in the wake of last winter's Gaza War, and find the timing of the Brand Israel campaign and TIFF's decision to choose Tel Aviv for the inaugural edition of the City to City program more than coincidental.

It was TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey, she noted, who used the phrase "contested ground" in reference to Tel Aviv.

Bailey made the statement in an online posting in which he denied that TIFF had been subject to any undue influence in choosing the Israeli city for the program.

Asked her position on whether a final Middle East settlement would include one bi-national state or two separate states, one Palestinian and one Jewish, Klein said: "It should be up to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to decide what kind of states or state they want. I have never advocated for any position on it and am not about to start. My only concern is that all states must abide by international law. There is absolutely no merit in the claim that the letter advocates a one-state solution."

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A blog maintained by Jane Fonda also indicates that she supports the two-state solution, Klein added.

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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Michael Posner has been with the Globe and Mail since 1997, writing for arts, news and features.Before that, he worked for Maclean's Magazine and the Financial Times of Canada, and has freelanced for Toronto Llfe, Chatelaine, Walrus, and Queen's Quarterly magazines. More

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