Artists opposed to a spotlight on Israeli films at the Toronto International Film Festival insisted yesterday they are not calling for a boycott, after drawing the ire of a growing list of celebrity critics.

Filmmakers including Toronto’s John Greyson and Palestinian-Israeli director Elia Sulieman were to hold a press conference yesterday to explain their position and reveal messages of solidarity from supporters including historian Howard Zinn, U.K. director Ken Loach and U.S. author Alice Walker.

Organizers say they have collected more than 1,500 signatures to a letter protesting the program, including those of author Naomi Klein, actress Jane Fonda and musician David Byrne.

“The declaration is not a call to boycott TIFF, nor is it a demand to boycott individual Israeli artists,” organizers said yesterday in a release.

“It is a statement of principled opposition to the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to honour Tel Aviv with a special spotlight this year.”

Tel Aviv is the first city selected as the focus of the festival's “City to City” program, meant to spotlight the films from a particular urban centre.

Protesters say the choice is seen by many Palestinians as taking Israel’s side in the Middle East conflict.

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