Film-maker John Greyson has pulled his short film Covered out of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in protest against a sidebar dedicated to films from the Israeli capital Tel Aviv.

Greyson and nine other Toronto-based film-makers have issued a petition calling for a protest over the festival’s “complicity with the Israeli propaganda machine”. The group claims that the decision to dedicate the inaugural City to City programme to Tel Aviv is part of a “brand Israel” charm offensive led by Israeli government and a number of prominent Canadians to counter the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey responded to Greyson’s petition with an open letter. He rejected the suggestion that the Israeli government played any role in developing the concept or programme for the City to City series. “There was no pressure from any outside source,” wrote Bailey. “Contrary to rumours or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions. We value that independence and would never compromise it.”

Bailey also countered the petition’s assertion that the program fails to represent Palestinian narratives by pointing to other titles in the festival line-up, including two films by Palestinian filmmakers and others from Lebanon and Egypt.

In April, Greyson withdrew another film, FigTrees, from the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival in similar protest. Covered follows efforts to establish a gay film festival in Bosnia and the hate crimes that prevent it.