Attempts at branding Israel have accelerated after the war on Gaza, Blue Star PR being one example. But the attempt goes as far back as at least last summer when the Israeli government, together with Canadian partners, started the “Brand Israel” advertising campaign, aimed at changing Canadians’ view of Israel. Briefly put, the campaign entails doing nothing about the reasons why Israel is under constant criticism and doing everything about changing her image. Same product, different packaging. It is, after all, brought to you by the same people who branded Lebanon.

The honorary place Israel will be receiving at the Toronto International Film Festival is the culmination of this campaign. The festival’s new City to City program will be kicked off by a focus on Tel Aviv. As a sure sign that the pre-Gaza’09 world is not the post-Gaza’09 world, however, this has elicited a reaction that goes beyond the usual fringe group:

The emphasis on ‘diversity’ in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

You can read the open letter and list of signatories here. The great surprise was seeing Jane Fonda among the signatories. The same Jane Fonda who entertained Israeli troops in east Beirut during the siege of 1982 and expressed her identification with Israel’s struggle — which got her on the Lebanese Internal Security’s list of banned movies (pdf list courtesy of Sean).