Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Jewish Community Expresses Outrage over SFJFF's "Rachel" Event

Thousands of members of the Bay Area Jewish community are outraged over the SFJFF's presentation of a virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic event which includes a screening of the movie "Rachel;" a talk after the film by Cindy Corrie and co-presentations by Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee.

Hundreds of people have contacted the festival's executive director Peter Stein to explain why this event is so deeply offensive to them. For example one man, a professor of history and Holocaust survivor, wrote to Stein:
  • "This is reminiscent of self-destructive appeasement responses of German Jews, and 'see no evil' behavior of American Jews, in 1938-39 to Nazi genocidal policies targeting Jews. To paraphrase Lenin speaking of Communist-leaning capitalists, these "useful fools" will hand us the rope with which to hang them. It is truly sad to see this history repeat itself."
Another wrote:
  • "Your organization’s decision to show this film and provide a live forum for activists of anti-zionism has saddened and disheartened me. I wish the showing could be explained away as the result of naivete and misinformation, were it not so self-destructive. Your organization is actively participating in a campaign of disinformation and demonization of Israel."
And another:
  • "It is disgraceful that the SFJFF would show a film in praise of Rachel Corrie. It is beyond belief that the SFJFF would compound this despicable act by bringing Corrie's mother to speak at the screening. I don't think you can top this for an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic event unless perhaps you can find a genocidal monster like Ahmadinejad to make an appearance. How could the SFJFF staff support a group that blatantly calls for the destruction of Israel? How can the SFJFF give support and comfort to the anti-Semites (Jews and non-Jews) who manage to hide their hatred under an anti-Zionist banner!"
To each email he has received, Stein apparently has sent the same pathetic boilerplate response, which completely ignores the depth of the anger and the seriousness of the concerns of his correspondents. Dismayed by his cavalier attitude and egregious lack of sensitivity to our Jewish community, I sent the following email to Stein and the SFJFF senior staff and board of directors, and copied prominent Jewish communal leaders and festival sponsors:

From: Tammi Benjamin
Date: July 10, 2009 2:27:14 PM PDT
To: pstein@sfjff.org, jewishfilm@sfjff.org, info@sfjff.org, olevin@sfjff.org, nfishman@sfjff.org, jmoore@sfjff.org, kerri@sffjff.org, szucker@sfjff.org, dblakeley@sfjff.org, allyson@sfjff.org
Cc: Doug Kahn , Jonathan Bernstein , Mervyn Danker - AJC , jfarber@koretfoundation.org, daniels@sfjcf.org, ckirschner@aipac.org, concal.sec@sanfrancisco.mfa.gov.il, asataloff@paloaltojcc.org
Subject: Re: A response from SFJFF about the film RACHEL

Dear Mr. Stein,

Thank you for your email. I have read it and the attached statement of the SFJFF Executive Board and Senior Staff very carefully, and I would like to bring to your attention several concerns that neither you nor the Festival leadership have adequately addressed:

1) Simone Bitton, Director of the film "Rachel," signed a petition in January of this year calling on the UN and EU to impose immediate sanctions against Israel, because "that is the only way to stop the insatiable Israeli violence." It is hardly surprising, then, that the documentary she produced is an unambiguously anti-Israel film, whose purpose is to provoke animosity towards the Jewish State and to encourage activism against it. What is surprising, and extremely troubling for many in our Jewish community including longtime Festival supporters, is that the SFJFF would be the first Jewish film festival in the country to show this film, which seeks to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State and is, in both intent and effect, anti-Semitic.

2) Equally troubling is the fact that you have invited Rachel Corrie's mother to speak at this event. Cindy Corrie is well-known for her anti-Israel animus and her support of organizations and projects whose goal is to harm the Jewish State. For instance, if you go to the website of the Rachel Corrie Foundation (RCF), of which Cindy Corrie is president, you will see the following:

Cindy Corrie's organization endorses groups which call for divestment and boycotts against Israel, and is a member organization of U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, which, according to the ADL, "promotes divestment from Israeli companies, organizes anti-Israel events and lobbies the U.S. Congress to end American support for Israel."

The current lead story on the RCF website, by Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin, is entitled: "Who Will Stop the AIPAC Jews Before it is Too Late?

The RCF is a financial backer of "Birthright Unplugged," a program which, according to the ADL, "counters the Taglit-Birthright Israel trips by bringing tourists into Palestinian cities and villages and providing a distinctly anti-Israel view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Participants of Birthright Unplugged are encouraged to also participate in the program Birthright Unplugged Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions against Israel and Investment in Palestine (BDS + I), which the Birthright Unplugged website describes as follows:

"In light of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, we have designed an institute as a complement to our travel program to support organizers and activists to be better able to apply their knowledge to campaign work. We plan to work with student activists, faith-based organizers, and community leaders to develop and strengthen their campaigns of BDS against Israel."

The founder of the Birthright Unplugged program, Hannah Mermelstein, claims that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians in 1948 and that there can be no peace with Israel without the Palestinian right of return

In addition, Cindy Corrie is on the Board of the Rebuilding Alliance, an organization which accuses Israel of oppressing and abusing the Palestinian people, engages in anti-Israel political lobbying and is closely allied with the International Solidarity Movement, a group which has aided and abetted Palestinian terror against Israel.

You can also hear Cindy Corrie calling for "an end to U.S. military, economic, diplomatic and corporate support for the Israeli occupation," in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEI2REIcpkc.

3) Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), who are advertised on your website as co-presenters at the "Rachel" event, are well-known in the local Jewish community for being two of the most virulently anti-Israel organizations in the Bay Area:

JVP supports divestment, boycott and sanctions against Israel; engages in anti-Israel political lobbying; encourages Israeli youth to refuse to serve in the IDF; and through its official blog, Muzzlewatch, viciously attacks major Jewish organizations that combat anti-Semitism, such as the ADL, CAMERA, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Stand With Us. In addition, JVP was a major sponsor of the October 2007 conference of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization that embraces an anti-Zionist theology which claims that the founding ideology of the Jewish State is based on a false reading of the Bible, is unjust, and stands in opposition to God. Indeed, the pictures emailed to you by a professor at San Jose State University -- showing the JVP marching at an anti-Israel rally in San Francisco alongside groups holding banners bearing the slogans "Smash the Jewish State," "Zionism = Naziism; Naziism = Zionism" and "Jews are Terrorists" -- say it all. (See attached).

The AFSC, too, calls for and supports divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel (see the forwarded email below from the SF AFSC to its members and allies, calling them to a meeting next week to discuss "boycott, divestment, sanctions activities"), and the AFSC honored Ahmadinejad at a dinner when he was in NY.

Given that almost all of this information is a matter of public record, and you were presumably aware of it before planning this event, I can only assume that the Festival leadership condones the event's anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic thrust. Moreover, given your unwillingness to address the numerous concerns that many have already raised, including the fear that holding this event at a Jewish film festival will lend much legitimacy to its anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic message and be a significant source of incitement against Jews in our area, I can only assume that the Festival leadership is completely insensitive to these Jewish fears and concerns, and feels no sense of responsibility towards the community it claims to serve.

Therefore, I ask the Jewish community leaders and sponsors who are copied on this email, as well as the hundreds of Jewish community members who have been blind copied, to reconsider your support for this year's Festival.


Tammi Benjamin

Here is an email from the San Francisco office of the American Friends Service Committee to their partners and allies:

Dear Palestine Solidarity Partners and Allies,

On JULY 14TH, the American Friends Service Committee Middle East Program invites you to a meeting with the purpose of 'Convening the Network'. The goal of this meeting is to bring together all groups, organizations and networks working on Middle East peace issues in the Bay Area. During a time when our activism is vital and resources are becoming scarce, we would like to provide an opportunity for organizations with common goals to develop better mechanisms for communication, share information and support each others work.

AFSC will also be providing more details on the 'Citizen Hearings on the Impact of US Weapons on Civilians in Gaza' program we recently held with our Interfaith Network, as well as follow up steps on how to introduce the program to your community. Additional topics being organized by various local groups and individuals, that we intend to cover during this meeting, are as follows:

- Boycott, divestment, sanctions activities

- Lobbying

- Advocacy/Education

- A strategy for addressing the corporate media

- Discuss the possibility of a joint campaign...and more!

*WE INVITE YOU *to bring forward your related projects, ideas and energy, and encourage others to join in your work. Also, please suggest any names of those you think would be interested in joining this network, to the emails below. *

Please RSVP by July 10th to Michelle (our fabulous intern for the summer!) at 415.565.0201 ext.28 or email Lynn at: lgottl...@afsc.org or Noura at: nkho...@afsc.org with any questions, or if you would like to add, or make a presentation of your work to the agenda...and/or to add you to the listserve we started specifically for those interested in this work: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Palestine_Solidarity_Network/

American Friends Service Committee
65 Ninth Street, San Francisco
Tuesday, July 14th - 6:30PM (light snacks provided) *
Thank you!
The Middle East Peace Team
Noura, Lynn and Michelle

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