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Signing protest letter was rash, Fonda says

Actress Jane Fonda, one of the principal voices criticizing the Toronto International Film Festival's special spotlight on Tel Aviv, stepped back Sunday night from her position.

In an official statement, Ms. Fonda wrote that she had "signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue.

"Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city 'built on destroyed Palestinian villages,' for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas's 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.

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"In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region," Ms. Fonda added, "in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts."

The Fonda statement comes amid a flurry of pro- and anti-Israeli statements.

Yousry Nasrallah, an Egyptian filmmaker at TIFF, announced that two Egyptians films, The Traveller and Heliopolis, and one unnamed Arab short had been pulled from the festival, as part of the protest. Mr. Nasrallah said it was the producer of Heliopolis, not its director, Ahmad Abdalla, who wanted that film pulled.

The coalition of artist and activists opposed to the TIFF focus on Tel Aviv - because it seems to coincide with an Israeli government plan to promote Israeli arts and sciences - held a public meeting at Ryerson University, attended by some 300 people.

They gave standing ovations to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman and Canadian director John Greyson, whose decision last month to pull his short documentary from TIFF's 2009 lineup was the catalyst for the current controversy, a standing ovation.

Although the protesters insist that they do not intend to boycott or censor Israeli films per se, most of the people who have signed the group's letter of protest are part of the much broader boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign aimed at weakening the Israeli state.

However, Mr. Suleiman warned the audience to be careful of the boycott weapon, saying it has to be applied selectively.

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The protesters so-called Toronto Declaration, posted online with an open request for additional signatories, has so far drawn 1,500 supporters.

The two-hour meeting, which included videotaped and written statements from Canadian activist Naomi Klein, filmmaker Ken Loach, novelist Alice Walker and Israeli filmmaker Uri Aloni was on one occasion - when Mr. Greyson was speaking - interrupted by hecklers from the Jewish Defence League. After repeated warnings, the hecklers were escorted out by security personnel.

On the other side, some major names in show business, including Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Kudrow Monday signed their names to a statement applauding TIFF for "including the Israeli film community in the Festival's City to City program. Anyone who has actually seen recent Israeli cinema … knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for any government policy. Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect."

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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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