The recent disclosure of social media posts by British Labour MP Naz Shah has clarified the battle lines of Middle East discourse, says one of Canada’s most prolific film and TV producers.
“Through her toxic rants, in which she urges her Facebook minions to get organized because, ‘the Jews are rallying,’ she lays to rest the pretense that there is any difference between Jew hatred and anti-Zionism,” Robert Lantos said.
“Her proposal to ethnically cleanse Israel of its entire Jewish population, enthusiastically seconded by celebrity politician Ken Livingstone, helps to crystallize the true intent of the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] brigade, an intent which has nothing to do with peace or a two-state solution.”
Lantos’ remarks came at the May 1 Mount Carmel dinner, an annual fundraiser hosted by Canadian Friends of Haifa University, where he received an honorary doctorate (read his speech in its entirety here). Proceeds from this year’s event will generate about 100 scholarships in the university’s Ambassadors Online program, a new-media course in Israel advocacy. Almost 550 people attended the event at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel.
A skilled promoter for much of his career, the media mogul has leveraged his profile repeatedly to support Israel. In February, he wrote an open letter criticizing York University for allowing a pro-Palestinian mural in its student centre that some argue promotes violence against Israel.
At the dinner, he drew a line from pre-war Hungary – where he was born after the Holocaust – to the modern-day Jew hatred.”
“The majority of Hungary’s Jewish population was murdered in a few months,” he said. “But it didn’t start with violence. It began with words – and the words set the stage, which then legitimized the violence that followed… The war of words has been fought against Jews for many centuries, in many lands. After the Holocaust, we thought that this was over, once and for all. But the cycle has begun again. It is now firing on all cylinders across Europe. In France, in Belgium, in Holland, it has already led to acts of brutal violence.”
Along the way, Israel and – to a lesser extent – the Jewish community has lost the progressive narrative, and even for many liberal Jews, Israel has become a sticky proposition, he said.
“To defeat BDS, we must reclaim the liberal, socially engaged hearts and minds, and in particular, Jewish youth,” Lantos argued. “From [U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful] Bernie Sanders to J Street and Jews for Peace, liberal Jews have come to believe that they must distance themselves from Israel in order to burnish their progressive credentials. In so doing, they march with those who would eliminate the Jewish state.”
In fact, he said, BDS is “the propaganda arm of a terrorist organization intent on the destruction of the Jewish state.” Activists need to highlight its connections with organizations such as Hamas.
“Israel has many warts and flaws, all of which should be and are criticized,” he said. “Some of her political leaders are definitely not my own cup of tea. But it is a travesty to link arms with those who are supported by regimes which deny women’s rights, torture and incarcerate dissenters, censor freedom of expression and are intent on the genocide of the Jewish state… To vanquish BDS, we must shine a light on what its true objectives are, who its allies are and who its financiers are.”
After first achieving fame in 1978 with the then-risqué In Praise of Older Women, Lantos has produced such critically acclaimed films as Being Julia, Eastern Promises and The Sweet Hereafter, as well as the Canadian hit Men with Brooms.
Jewish themes pepper his work, such as in Joshua Then and Now and Barney’s Version, adaptations of Mordechai Richler novels; Sword of Gideon, an HBO production about the Mossad hit team assembled in the wake of the Munich Olympics massacre; and Sunshine, the multigenerational saga of a Jewish family in 20th century Hungary.
This dinner was the last for Amos Shapira, the school’s president. After four years at the helm, he will step down in September. Ron Robin, formerly of New York University, will replace him.