Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Commentary on SFJFF "Rachel" Screening

[...] The big issue for me was the predictable and unacceptable behavior of the anti-Israel members of the audience and the festival’s role in their presence at the screening. The festival associated itself with the Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Services Committee, two organizations which demonstrate a sophisticated, cloaked hostility to Israel. Their stated objective is peace but their criticism is leveled almost exclusively at Israel. They ignore Arab anti-Semitism, terrorism and intransigence in proposing solutions to the conflict, proposals whose implementation would inevitably weaken Israel and endanger her citizens. In my opinion, they are a threat to Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people.

The Film Festival either asked or allowed the JVP and AFSC to be the only co-presenters for “Rachel.” As such, they were to promote the film in an attempt to sell more tickets. As one would expect, they did so by encouraging their membership to attend. The result was a very large number of their members in the audience, people who are, at best, profoundly skeptical of Israel’s intentions and who, with complete disregard to the feelings of other members of the community, behaved quite poorly. They booed, hissed and mocked Michael Harris of S.F. Voice for Israel at multiple points while he spoke before the film, (you can hear examples at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k66uGD5nuk, 1:30 – 2:00 and 3:00 – 4:15). Unbelievably, someone actually yelled out “Sieg Heil” twice during his speech (4:06 of the YouTube video – this person was somewhere behind me and I have a better recording of him if you would like to hear it more clearly to be certain). [NB: I should point out that I cannot say definitively that this person was a member of either of these groups so perhaps it is unfair of me to blame them for this] Whether this person is an anti-Semite or trying to draw an analogy between Israeli and Nazi policies is immaterial; such language is unacceptable, particularly at a Jewish communal event. Furthermore, as you can see in the attached pictures, many of these people wore clothing which clearly demonstrated their sympathies. There was no shortage of keffiyehs and t-shirts with “We’re All Palestinians” or “End the Occupation.” A friend of mine said that a person in front of her had a button on that said “Yes to Hamas.” Policy disagreement is one thing; suppressing the voice of a mainstream pro-Israel activist and sartorially identifying with Israel’s enemies are another.

Quite frankly, I think it is the Jewish Voice for Peace which is instigating the Jew against Jew dynamic that none of us wants to see and I think it is unfair to say that people who respond are causing the rift. Critical responses to their policies and behavior are not just reasonable but necessary if we want to support the community. That said, I agree with David that private, frank discussions should be the first step. However, if as Jonathan suggest, this has been tried many times to no avail, a different approach should be considered. I don’t know the history of this debate and don’t feel qualified to advocate a specific communal approach. However, I can say that I consider the JVP and AFSC to be hostile to the interests of the majority of the Jewish community and that the aggressive and immature actions of their members at the festival disgusted me. I don’t think they should have any role at the event and that the Festival leadership should not be encouraging their presence.

I have been attending the film festivals for the last few years and have really, really enjoyed the experience. I think SFJFF offers excellent independent film and serves as a great communal meeting ground. I want it to continue in more or less its current form, offering film that entertains, educates and challenges the community. I want it to offer the safe, mainstream perspective as well as the uncomfortable, difficult point of view. Along with this, though, I want it to be a place where mainstream Jews who openly support Israel can feel comfortable and not intimidated or harassed. That is what I want. I think that is what the film festival wants as well but I am not sure and I certainly don’t think they draw the same line as many, though not all, of us do between acceptable and unacceptable. I would like to hear the film festival’s views on this subject. They have every right to maintain their current policies, policies which I believe create an environment hostile to Jews at an event for the Jewish community, but, should they chose to do, I will no longer support them.



PS Something I just learned tonight. The SFJFF screened "The Yes Men Fix the World." It was to be shown in the Jerusalem Film Festival as well but Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who made the film, withdrew it in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel (http://www.bdsmovement.net/?q=node/10). Given that this decision was published no later than July 1 (http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/20090701080625471), I have to assume the Film Festival knew it was screening a movie whose producers were in league with an organization that considers Israel to be a colonial, racist, apartheid state, an organization that advocates a right of return for Palestinians which would likely destroy Israel as a Jewish homeland.

T-shirt of one of the attendees

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