My Tel Aviv TIFF with Jane Fonda Hollywood stars questioning Israel's right to its commercial and cultural capital puts them on Iran's side

My Tel Aviv TIFF with Jane Fonda

Hollywood stars questioning Israel's right to its commercial and cultural capital puts them on Iran's side

I must confess that in my dual capacity as head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and founder of its two-time Academy Award-winning Moriah Films Division, I appreciate the cherished rights of artists to work in an atmosphere free of intimidation. At the same time I'm certainly no stranger to responding to attacks against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

But the recent decision of more than 65 artists to boycott Toronto's International Film Festival because it is spotlighting Tel Aviv's 100th birthday is a new low blow aimed at Israel's heart and soul that I have not seen for a long time.

The protesters include some famous names -- Naomi Klein, Danny Glover, John Greyson, and Jane Fonda -- who I have known for some time and enjoyed having Shabbat dinner with at my home some years ago.

In their Toronto Declaration, the artists lambaste Festival organizers for allowing the Israeli government to use the Fest as a branding opportunity to cover up Israeli crimes in an attempt to change Canadians' perceptions.

But what touched a raw nerve with me was their audacity to move the discussion away from the usual flashpoints of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to a new plateau, of calling into question the legitimacy of Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial, cultural and financial centre.

As their declaration states: "Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages and that the city of Jaffa ... was annexed by Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population.... Looking at ... Tel Aviv without ... considering the city's past... would be like rhapsodizing ... about the elegant lifestyles in white-only Capetown or Johannesburg during apartheid..."

A ROGUE STATE

There is no denying that by questioning Israel's right to Tel Aviv, these artists are bolstering the claim of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a rogue state that was allowed to steal Arab lands to make up for their "alleged" mistreatment in Europe.

In essence, the Toronto Declaration validates those claims and is, intentionally or unintentionally, nothing more than a recipe for Israel's destruction.

The protesters say we should focus all of our efforts on peace before it is too late. But peace is not just a message that can be wished upon or donated to someone. It needs leaders and since 1948, the Middle East has produced very few Arab leaders prepared to receive such a message.

Had the Arabs accepted the two-state solution in 1948 or 1967, then the Palestinian State that the Toronto protesters are fighting for, would today have been a much larger state.

Let me say this to all the signatories who call Israel an apartheid state, peace will come to the Middle East when Naomi Klein will be free to come to Gaza and write a book on hatred of Jews taught in Palestinian schools and textbooks. It will come when Jane Fonda can visit Damascus and Riyaad to study women's rights and the abuse of women in those countries.

Peace will come to the Middle East when Israeli Arabs finally tell the truth and explain why more than 62% of them said in a poll they would not want to give up their Israeli citizenship and live in the State of Palestine because they know they will never ever enjoy the freedoms there the citizens of Israel have.

It will come when the Security Council will stop convening emergency all-night sessions only when Israel retaliates, but will just once convene an emergency session when the rockets start falling on Israeli towns.

CARTER AND TUTU

Peace will come when upon hearing that Hamas has begun a daily rocket barrage on Sderot, that the first reaction of former president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is to rush there and tell the world these acts of terror must stop.

And peace will finally come to the Middle East when we all receive our invitations to attend an international Jewish Film Festival in any Arab city around the world.

Until that day, let's just enjoy the Festival and salute Tel Aviv, amongst the freest cities in the world, on its centennial.

-- Rabbi Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and a two-time Academy Award winner