Open letter: “Award for tolerance” hides story of discrimination

The following letter was sent by Montreal filmmaker Malcolm Guy to the Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québecois on 12 February:

With this letter I would like to officially withdraw as a member of the jury for the 2008 Prize of the Alex and Ruth Dworkin Foundation for the Promotion of Tolerance through Cinema (2008 Prix annuel de la Fondation Alex et Ruth Dworkin pour la promotion de la tolérance à travers le cinéma) at the Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québecois.

For those who may not be aware, this prize, which includes a grant of $5,000, “goes to a producer representing the production team which has best demonstrated, in the winning work, a message of comprehension and tolerance.”

I accepted the invitation from the Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québecois to join this year’s jury in good faith. But after examining in more detail the political and financial basis of the prize I must refuse to have my name associated with it. Behind this noble sounding “award for tolerance” hides a story of intolerance, division and discrimination.

Firstly, I quit the jury because the Prize of the Alex and Ruth Dworkin Foundation is an initiative of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), Quebec Region (Congrès juif canadien, ©gion du Québec), an organization which I consider to be a vehicle for the Israeli propaganda machine and fundamentally intolerant of dissent and difference, particularly when it comes to Israeli government policies.

One case in point is the refusal of the national leadership of the CJC to accept a recent membership application from the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC).

ACJC members “joined together to create a cross-Canada alliance of Jewish anti-occupation forces … whose views are not represented by the government of Israel or by the uncritical positions taken by the leadership of the major Jewish organizations in Canada.”

In an open letter to the Jewish communities of Canada signed by over 100 members and supporters, the ACJC states: “Israel continues to pursue a primarily military strategy while claiming to speak in the name of Jewish people around the world. … Canadians, especially Jewish Canadians, seeking a peaceful resolution to the seemingly endless Israel-Palestinian conflict should no longer remain silent in the face of Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories.”

Secondly, I quit the jury because I have discovered that Alex and Ruth Dworkin are major backers of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). On the JNF website they are listed among a select group of people “who have demonstrated an enduring commitment to Israel and JNF” by contributing $1 million and above to this Zionist institution.

Much has been written about the role of the JNF, but suffice it to say that this organization, under the guise of reforestation and land purchase, has been used by the Israeli state to cover up and legitimize the massive displacement of the Palestinian people and the occupation of their land. One example is Canada Park, located a short distance from Jerusalem. In a documentary widely shown on Canadian television entitled Park with no Peace, it was revealed that this JNF-sponsored park, using tax-deductible money raised in Canada, was built on the remains of the Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba.

CBC TV’s the fifth estate stated that some 10,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed by the Israeli armed forces from the land that was eventually turned into Canada Park. As a former member of the Israeli parliament who was interviewed put it, “Canadians were used to cover-up a war crime.”

I cannot be associated with people who finance such forms of intolerance and oppression. This is particularly so as Israeli troops lay siege on the people of Gaza causing intolerable shortages of electricity, fuel, food and other basic necessities — a situation which I protested along with hundreds of other Montrealers last Saturday.

I believe that the Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québécois should drop its affiliation with the Alex and Ruth Dworkin Foundation and the CJC. This award and award money is tainted, thus casting a negative light on the festival.

My desire to withdraw from the jury is not a comment on the films that have been nominated for the Price for Tolerance. I am sure the nominated films are a fine example of what the best of Quebec cinema has to offer and the filmmakers and producers were guided by a true sense of justice and tolerance. But I do hope that they will take into account the points I have raised in this letter and will be guided by their conscience.

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