Wednesday, September 30, 2009


David Byrne is speaking right now at the Bagdad Theater near our house. I like David Byrne, although I'm not that familiar with his work after Talking Heads. He's speaking about bicycling tonight - it figures - right here in "The Amsterdamn of America."

But here's my beef: David is one of many film personalities who signed an open letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for highlighting the city of Tel Aviv, Israel. Some filmmakers withdrew their films in protest. It's complex, of course, but to me the underlying issue is censorship with a political motive. The signers of the open letter, a lot of familiar film personalities, take issue with TIFF spotlighting Tel Aviv because they felt this plays into Israeli propaganda, Israel is an apartheid nation, Israel mistreats Palestinians, etc. No matter that some of the Israeli films are critical of Israel.

I have not understood the movement by some to protest and censor academic and artistic work by Israelis. Some academics have protested the inclusion of Israeli colleagues at professional meetings, as if Israeli scholars are the same as the Israeli government or policies. I think this kind of "political action" is narrow-minded and misplaced. The greater danger is that it fans the flames of anti-Semitism, which has been surging world-wide recently - and yes, even here in the U.S. (just ask any Jewish student at Portland State University, Lewis and Clark College, etc.).

As I've said before on this blog, the Israel-Palestinian situation is very complex, and it's easy to pick out the bad guy and side with the underdog. But guess what folks - reality isn't that simple. The good are bad and the bad are good, there's ample blame to go around, and a solution is, in my mind, not going to happen in our lifetimes.

So let's get back to David Byrne. By his own reasoning (and that of the other signers of the letter), we should boycott his works because he is from a country that tortures prisoners, illegally invades and occupies sovereign nations based on lies, is guilty of numerous human rights abuses, refuses to sign important international treaties, is the largest supplier of weapons to the world....shall I continue?

Let's support free expression, and let's not drag art into the mud of global politics.

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