Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Disingenuous: Peter Stein, CEO of the SFJewish Film Festival

Disingenuous; –adjective

1. Not straightforward or candid; insincere, cynical, or calculating
2. Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naïf.
3. Unaware or uninformed; naïve.

Peter Stein has just sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of the SF Jewish Film Festival. I reprint it here;


What does independent film mean to you?

If you answer the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, you’re not alone. Here’s why:

SFJFF films explore themes that humanize the Jewish experience -stories
of what it feels like to be a misunderstood bat mitzvah, of the process of learning to accept yourself for the size and shape that you are, of the delicate dynamics of a Holocaust survivor's family

SFJFF films tell little-known Jewish stories- tales of Ethiopian Jews caught between tradition and assimilation, of a group of Jewish alumni from Newark who cared enough to restore their high school to its former glory, of how young Orthodox filmmakers document their experiences.

‘SFJFF films entertain- stories of brazen and hilarious civil disobedience, spontaneous mid-life adventures and cutting-edge animation from Israel.

SFJFF films ask challenging Jewish questions- whether idealism can make a difference in the Middle East conflict, of what solace can be found when a loved one is held captive, of the Jewish response to anti-Semitism.

It is precisely for these reasons --- for being an arena for art, d\dialogue, and independent ideas, that SFJFF is renowned as a world leader. It is why we are able to attract the highest quality films and the respect of filmmakers.-.why we are the only Jewish film festival that the National Endowment for the Arts regularly supports. and why our audience is among the most discriminating. Unfortunately, it is also for these reasons that our critics are threatening to defund us. Today, more than ever, we must rely on people like you for support.

If this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival left you feeling entertained, touched, intellectually, stimulated or positively moved, please take this moment to support us financially.

Gifts from people like you make up 75% of our budget. Please reach deep and give all you can. Gifts can be made through our website- fest.sffiorg/about/membership or via the enclosed.

With profound gratitude,

Peter L. Stein
Executive Director

Either Peter Stein doesn't get it, (or he gets it but assumes that his audience is too dense to get it)

Does he really believe that these are the reasons why some are working to remove his funding? Those who wish to see him cut off from community funds base their commitment on deeply held principles, and not on the trivial reasons given by Mr. Stein.

The film festival has always been free to do as it wishes artistically. However, when the films it shows cross the line into partisan politics, use dubious arguments, and rely on polemics, then the festival is no longer serving up art but rather is in the business of indoctrination.

And when that indoctrination is contrary to the interests of the Jewish community and our core values, it is very appropriate to sit up, take notice, and work to fix the problem.

To understand the real reasons for opposing funding for Peter Stein, all one needs to do is read through the offerings on SFJFF watch , or read the articles by Jennifer Rubin, Abraham Miller, Ronald Radosh, Jamie Glazov, David Hornik, and others. These writers have explained clearly why many of us wish to deny community dollars to Peter Stein and his questionable agenda. Stein would certainly be advised to educate himself on these issues; he owes the community no less.

The film “Rachel”, directed by Simone Bitton, has a political agenda, and is fundamentally dishonest. It is designed to glamorize the work of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and to use an unfortunate young woman as a martyr to oppression of the Palestinians by Israel. Along with the accompanying visit by Rachel’s mother, who tours the country on behalf of ISM, it helps spread the gospel of hatred.

Peter Stein invited Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, to speak after the screening in San Francisco. Because of strong protests, Stein brought in Dr. Michael Harris, who was given five minutes before the screening to make the case against the film, and more importantly to give the appearance of fairness. As many predicted, the film attracted a disproportionate share of Israel bashers, who were there to worship Rachel and the ISM. As one would expect, Dr. Harris was booed, while the Iranian dictator Ahmadinejad was applauded. By contrast, Cindy Corrie answered softball questions for over an hour from an obsequious Peter Stein.

Dr Abraham Miller has revealed the real agenda as follows;

"the documentary tours film festivals along with Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother and a propagandist for the likes of Hamas and the International Solidarity Movement — groups committed to Israel’s destruction.
Peter Stein, the festival’s director, knew exactly what he was doing in selecting this film. Stein was familiar with both Bitton’s work and her politics. He invited the American Friends Service Committee, now helping with the boycott of Israeli goods, to participate in the showing. Stein also had on his board Rachel Pfeffer, the interim director of Jewish Voice for Peace — a group committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. (Since Rachel Pfeiffer’s outing as JVP director, her biography on the festival web site has been thoroughly cleansed.)"

The other problematic film, “Defamation”, is in many ways an even more dangerous film. It is a diatribe against Holocaust memorializing, and makes the fight against anti-Semitism seem like a small-minded endeavor, pursued by foolish and petty people. . It trivializes those concerned with these matters, depicting the ADL and its staff as buffoons, showing those Israelis who are concerned about the Holocaust as dinosaurs living in the past, and strongly suggesting that Yad Vashem exists to make Jews angry so that they will persecute Palestinians.

The heroes of the film are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the two individuals who attacked the “Israel lobby”, indirectly raising issues of dual loyalty, and implying that it was impossible to have a rational discussion about Israel. (This is the same message given by Jimmy Carter, who schleps his book all over the country and has a forum wherever he wishes)

Walt and Mearsheimer are portrayed as calm, rational academics, shown in serene book filled offices, working against the hysteria of those who uncritically support Israel.

The film lionizes Norman Finkelstein, a man who once suggested that Elie Wiesel was the clown prince of the Holocaust and has written a book to the effect that the Holocaust is simply an "industry" rather than the central tragedy, physical and psychic, for Jews born in the 20th century.

Finkelstein, though not a Holocaust denier, has become the darling of deniers, and of a gaggle of anti-Israel groups who love to hire him to speak at their functions (Speaking of an industry; Finkelstein is doing very well at this endeavor)

Many of us grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The fears thereby engendered are not ancient history. We believe fervently in the survival of a Jewish state. We consider this to be a moral issue. And while those who work against that goal are free to have their beliefs, we are not obligated to have them promote those messages on our dime.

The issue here was framed by Jamie Glazov who asked:

“Why is a Jewish film festival giving a platform to a documentary and to an individual that serve the cause of anti-Jewish hate?”

Why indeed. And herein lies the real reasons why we believe the community should not fund the SFJFF, not the reasons given by the ever duplicitous Peter Stein.

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