Tuesday, 11 October 2011
TORONTO – Accomplished Canadian filmmaker Robert Lantos has resigned from the jury of York University’s CineSiege Film Festival after learning that John Greyson, a York University film professor, was involved in the festival.
Lantos resigned in July but the issue came to light recently after his email to Amnon Buchbinder, associate professor of screenwriting and chair of the film department at York University, was leaked to the blog Blazing Cat Fur.
Lantos, who said he was not the source of the leak, has provided several emails between himself and Buchbinder, as well as between himself and Greyson, to the Tribune.
In his resignation email to Buchbinder, Lantos wrote that Greyson spearheaded a boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival and was active in spreading propaganda against the state of Israel and its people.
“The involvement of this individual presents an insurmountable problem for me…. By championing the censorship and oppression of art due to the ethnicity of the artists he violated the most sacred principles of free expression and betrayed his own profession, losing all credibility as a filmmaker.”
Lantos said Greyson and others taking an anti-Zionist stand “are symptomatic of a widespread malaise. It’s not really about a piece of land in the Middle East, it’s about a people; it’s about my people.”
“Jews can’t afford to take a passive stand,” Lantos told the Jewish Tribune by phone from New York.
Hungarian-born Lantos has been given numerous professional awards and accolades. He is also a member of the Order of Canada and in 2008 he was the recipient of B’nai Brith Canada’s Award of Merit.
When asked by the Tribune if his withdrawal might hurt his career, Lantos replied, “I have no idea nor could I care less. If we govern ourselves by petty principles such as only doing things that will benefit us” versus “taking principled stands then we are asking for nothing less than our own perdition.”
Referring to the Jewish population in Hungary, which was almost completely extinguished by the Nazis, Lantos said Jewish people today cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead of passively turning the other cheek, “when someone decides to slap us, we [have to] slap right back – harder – so it doesn’t happen again, using whatever means at our disposal. In my case, I resigned from the jury.”
In an email to Greyson, Lantos wrote, “I am a Jew, hence I am an Israeli. There is no difference…. You are determined to vilify and undermine my people…. You have targeted Jews because you think we are vulnerable and because you think you can get away with it in the current climate. About that, you are mistaken.”
A “propaganda war” aims to separate Diaspora Jews from those in Israel, Lantos told the Tribune, and “once you accept that separation, you can demonize, vilify and totally isolate Israel.”
But, for him, not identifying with the Jews in Israel “is equal to deserting them. They represent me and it’s because of them that we have a homeland. We are all one and the strategy of those who would do us harm is to separate us because that would make us weak…. I am convinced that the survival of the Jewish people is totally interwoven with the survival of Israel.”
Lantos said that criticism of Israel or of Jewish individuals isn’t automatically antisemitic.
“However, time and time again, in history and again today, we are the only nation on earth singled out for extermination or who would be denied the right to exist. It’s not gonna happen.”
He described anti-Israel activism from any source as a jihad because “there is a jihad, it’s been declared, and I have a hard time distinguishing between those who bear arms and their public relations apologists.”
Greyson defended himself in an email to Lantos: “Your accusations of anti-semitism [sic], fascism and censorship are mind-boggling, given my three decades of activism (with many Jewish friends) fighting these and many related injustices – including the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”