Jane Fonda about-face on Toronto protest

8:52 AM PST 09/15/2009 by Etan Vlessing, AP

One of the original signatories to the Toronto Declaration

TORONTO -- Turns out Jane Fonda didn't mean to sign on to an artist-led protest of the controversial Tel Aviv spotlight at the Toronto International Film Festival after all.

"I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue," the actress, one of the original signatories to the Aug. 28 Toronto Declaration, said in a statement posted on the Huffington Post late Monday.

Fonda said the online petition, which accuses TIFF of helping Israel polish its international reputation, encourages division and not debate over the festival's Israeli film showcase.

"In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians," she wrote.

Fonda's conversion followed conversations with prominent Los Angeles community leaders, including Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"I've known Jane for a long time, and I had a very good discussion on this issue with her when she visited me at my home last Thursday," Hier said in his own statement.

"She told me then that she had not thoroughly vetted the Toronto Declaration as she should have and I think that she did the right thing by saying that and issuing this very much needed clarification to set the record straight," he added after holding his own news conference in Toronto on Thursday to criticize the artist-led protest over the Tel Aviv spotlight.

Meanwhile, filmmakers and actors continue to trade barbs over the Toronto sidebar.

The Toronto Declaration was criticized Monday by a long list of Hollywood actors, directors and industry execs, including Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

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In response, Toronto-based director Elle Flanders denied charges of censorship and injecting TIFF with politics.

"We have been accused of politicizing culture, but it has been the festival and the Israeli government that has done this. We in fact defend Israeli filmmakers' rights to screen along with the rest of the festival, rather than as representatives of their government," she said.

The Toronto International Film Festival ends Saturday.
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