Monday, September 14, 2009

Letter to Peter Stein from Tammy Benjamin

Dear Mr. Stein,

I have just seen a recent e-solicitation of yours (forwarded below), extolling the virtues of independent Jewish films and exhorting members of the community who appreciate the value of such films to donate to the SFJFF. In your letter, you also indicate that one of the reasons you are asking donors "to step up" their donations now is that "our detractors are calling for us to be defunded," implying that your "detractors" are motivated by a desire to stifle independent Jewish films.

As one of the many members of the Jewish community who has been calling for the SFJFF to be defunded, I would like to respond to your egregiously disingenuous solicitation.

Far from a desire to stifle independent Jewish films, we are calling for the SFJFF to be defunded because of your disgraceful mishandling of the "Rachel" event. Permit me to remind you of why we feel this way:

1) You refused to cancel the screening of "Rachel" and the talk by Cindy Corrie, despite the fact that many members of our community, including several Holocaust survivors, described how enormously hurtful and offensive this program would be to them and to the entire Jewish community.

2) You refused to cancel the "Rachel" event, despite knowing that "Rachel" director Simone Bitton and Cindy Corrie had engaged in efforts to harm the Jewish State, including the following:
Simone Bitton signed a petition in January of this year calling on the UN and EU to impose immediate sanctions against Israel.
Cindy Corrie has called for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel, and she is closely allied with the International Solidarity Movement, a group which has aided and abetted Palestinian terror against Israel.
The Rachel Corrie Foundation, which Cindy Corrie heads, promotes divestment and boycotts against Israel; attacks mainstream Jewish organizations such as AIPAC; and funds "Birthright Unplugged," which, according to the ADL, "counters the Taglit-Birthright Israel trips...providing a distinctly anti-Israel view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

3) You refused to disavow the Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee as co-presenters of the "Rachel" event, despite knowing of the numerous actions that both of these organizations have taken to harm the Jewish State and her supporters, including the following:
JVP supports divestment, boycott and sanctions against Israel; engages in anti-Israel political lobbying; encourages Israeli youth to refuse to serve in the IDF; 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; was a major sponsor of the virulently anti-Semitic Sabeel conference in 2007; and marched at an anti-Israel rally in San Francisco alongside groups holding banners calling for the destruction of the Jewish State. (Just recently the JVP issued a statement supporting the boycott of Israeli films celebrating Tel Aviv at the Toronto International Film Festival. I guess the JVP isn't keen on independent Jewish films, except those that demonize Israel).
AFSC calls for and supports divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel, and the organization's Bay Area leadership -- including "Rabbi" Lynn Gottleib, co-director of Middle East Programing for AFSC Pacific Mountain Region and a member of the National Advisory Board of JVP -- has called for vandalizing Israeli products at local stores such as Trader Joe's.

4) You refused to acknowledge that the "Rachel" event indeed turned out to be an unmitigated anti-Semitic, anti-Israel hatefest:
The audience at the event was, overwhelmingly, virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and it included some of the most vicious enemies of the Jewish State in this country, such as ISM and SBM leaders Paul Larudee and Donna and Darlene Wallach, who openly support Hamas and work towards the destruction of Israel.

Virulently anti-Israel organizations used the event as an opportunity to recruit new members from among festival attendees.
Members of the audience behaved like hooligans and thugs, booing, hissing and heckling token pro-Israel speaker Mike Harris, perversely applauding the mention of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and cheering the mention of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's name. One person even yelled out "Seig Heil" twice during Harris' talk, each time accompanied by full Nazi salute.
When JCRC board member Larry Goldberg attempted to ask the only question that was critical of the event, an SFJFF staff member tried to grab the microphone away from him. According to Goldberg's own account: "We wrestled for the microphone as a second member of the staff advanced on me. The crowd immediately started booing me and yelling as I struggled to keep my grip on the microphone. I could hear a woman's voice across the aisle yelling, 'Shut him up, shut him up.'" Goldberg concluded: "The afternoon was simply the worst experience for our community in many years."

For these reasons, until you:
publicly admit that the "Rachel" event was an egregious lapse in judgement on the part of you and the SFJFF board, and apologize to the Jewish community for the hurt and anguish you have caused in the community;
produce and publicize a written policy statement indicating that you will never in the future show films or bring speakers that demonize Israel or her supporters;
publicly repudiate JVP, AFSC and any other organization which seeks to harm the Jewish state or her supporters, and ensure that these groups will never be allowed to participate in future SFJFF events in any way;

I will continue to:
encourage the hundreds of people bcc'd on this email, and the thousands more who will read it on the internet, to withhold any and all financial support to the SFJFF, as well as to the Jewish organizations that fund the festival;
call for your resignation and the resignation of the entire SFJFF board.

What do you say, Mr. Stein? Will you do the right thing?

Many of us look forward to your response.


Tammi Benjamin

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