WASHINGTON – Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron has strongly condemned efforts to boycott Israeli artists after his name was wrongly added to one such recent petition.

“To suppress a gathering of artists, from afar, through boycott or any other means of exerting pressure, is wrong,” Cameron, whose latest movie, Avatar, recently became the highest-grossing film of all time, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“It is ridiculous to punish artists for the actions of governments, under any circumstances,” he said. “And to ask other artists to exert political pressure on a government, no matter what one’s opinion of that government or its policies, by punishing artists, is obscene on its face.”

Cameron made his comments to the Post after a letter, which called on participants in this year’s Tel Aviv University student film festival to boycott the event, was circulated with his and Jane Fonda’s names as the initial signatories.

Fonda’s publicist, Pat Kingsley, told the Post that the world-famous actress “had nothing to do with this letter and knew nothing about it and does not agree with it.”

And Cameron, in an e-mail to the Post, explained that “I was dragged into this without permission or notification, and do not personally support the position of those who wrote the letter.”

He noted that he had received apologies for the mistake of including his name and added, “I hope, fervently, that the brief and erroneous use of my name did not influence others to sign.”

The draft petition, which originated in Canada, was circulated in recent weeks to gather signatures by “concerned film teachers, scholars and filmmakers,” according to the letter.

In his remarks to the Post, Cameron distinguished between calls for boycotts of goods and services versus forums for artistic expression, saying that in this case, “if these people want their views expressed, they should go to the film festival themselves and speak out. Better yet, they should make a film expressing their beliefs and run it there.

“When film is forced to be political, it’s called propaganda,” he continued. “It is up to the artistic community to firewall itself from political pressure, so that opinions may be expressed freely.”

Cameron, whose previous blockbusters include Titanic, for which he won the Oscar for best director, as well as Aliens and the Terminator films, demurred when asked for his perspective on the Middle East conflict and the role filmmakers had in addressing it.

“I am not the right person to weigh in with a strong opinion here, when there are so many filmmakers who have lived with these issues daily who need to be heard,” he said.

But he added, “I believe that film is a way of lowering cultural boundaries and understanding an issue from an opposing perspective. Film allows us to see the world through the lens of another person’s reality, and as such is our most powerful tool for bringing people together and for avoiding conflict.”  

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