Sunday, July 26, 2009

SF Jewish Film Festival Audience Jeers Pro-Israel Speaker but Cheers for Ahmedinejad

The controversy about the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's invitation to Cindy Corrie hit a fever pitch this week. An editorial in "j", our local community newspaper, endorsed the same opinion previously expressed here. In addition, the president of the SFJFF board resigned and two prominent local foundations issued a stinging criticism of the Film Festival's decision to invite Mrs. Corrie.

But things were to get even more interesting. I was personally invited by Peter Stein, the executive director of the SFJFF, to make a brief statement prior to the film to discuss why many of us objected to this program. While I knew that this would be a hostile audience, I didn't anticipate objections from many dedicated activists within the pro-Israel community who felt that this would let the Film Festival off the hook by allowing them to claim that they had "balanced" the program. However, StandWithUs fully supported this appearance, realizing that this was a unique opportunity to present our viewpoint, even knowing that the majority of the audience would be hostile.

And everything that happened yesterday was exactly as anticipated. Not only had the event's co-sponsors, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee, sent out appeals to their members to show up in force, but Cindy Corrie herself sent out a similar e-mail. So the crowd's reaction was no surprise, and you can see it for yourself here.

The film, of course, was utterly lacking in context. One brief mention that the IDF teams were looking for explosives-smuggling tunnels. No mention of the terror war. An interesting point near the end of the film when an Israeli anarchist from Jaffa is interviewed-- he talks about resistance and a few other similar phrases about idealism, then said that some of the words don't translate well into Hebrew-- the audience laughed at that line.

Peter Stein didn't ask any hard questions of Cindy Corrie-- it was a total softball interview. He did ask her what she thought of the controversy here, she said it surprised her, talked about some of the Jewish community supporting her the first time that the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie was pulled from the theater in New York. She thinks it has less to do with her appearance than with discussions in the Jewish community about Israel, and those whose allegiance to Israel "leads them to support the status quo".

She took maybe 3 questions from the audience, each devolved into about a 10-15 minute answer, everything of course building on the sympathy factor. She did not address any specific political issues except that as far as the investigation into her daughter's death she was told by US officials that she will never get anyone in the US gov't to agree to investigate this fully, because it involves Israel.

I did not get to ask her the question I wanted to ask, which was as follows:

"Mrs Corrie, I'm sure you and I agree that too many people have died in this conflict. We all want peace, but some of us have different concepts of what "peace" means. My concept is that of a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and mutual recognition. What is YOUR concept of peace?"

I don't know what her answer would be; but, based on the responses to my talk, I know what the audience's answer is. So the question that needs to be asked of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is this:

If you are attracting an audience that jeers a pro-Israel speaker, and cheers not only for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel but also at the mention of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, is that the kind of programming that is appropriate for a JEWISH Film Festival?

The full text of my remarks is below.

The Jewish Film Festival is an important cultural institution in our community. Yet, as Peter noted, this year there has been an uproar from not only our local Jewish community, but also from Jewish communities around the country and overseas, over the Film Festival’s choice of this film and speaker.

My presence here should in no way be considered as either endorsing, or even adequately balancing, this event. These few minutes cannot in any way provide an appropriate response to the next two hours.

I came here today to give voice to a different perspective—the perspective of the wider spectrum of the Bay Area and global Jewish communities, including our own community institutions such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, and ‘J”, our community’s newspaper which voiced strong concerns about today’s program, and including the respected Taube and Koret Foundations which have expressed strong opposition to this program as being inappropriate for a Jewish Film Festival.

All of us here know that Rachel Corrie tragically died when she intentionally put herself in harm’s way during an IDF counter-terrorism operation in the Gaza Strip. But many of us don’t know the names of other young American victims—Abigail Leitel, a 14 year old Baptist girl from New Hampshire, murdered when a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Haifa on March 5, 2003. David Gritz age 24, Benjamin Blutstein age 25 and UC Berkeley student Marla Bennett, age 24, all murdered on July 31, 2002 by a suicide bomber in the cafeteria at Hebrew University.

And there are Israeli Rachels. Rachel Levy, age 17, was murdered in Jerusalem on March 29, 2002 by a suicide bomber. Rachel Thaler, age 16, died Feb 27 2002 as a result of injuries when a suicide bomber exploded himself in the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem 11 days earlier. And there are more—too many more—Israeli Rachels.

And none of them were engaged in anything more risky than riding a bus, or going to buy a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee. And, just as Rachel Corrie should be alive today, so should all of these young men and women.

They were all murdered before Rachel Corrie came to Gaza. That’s why the young IDF soldier was operating that bulldozer in Rafah. It wasn’t to wantonly destroy Palestinian homes. It was to destroy the tunnels used to smuggle explosives for murdering Israelis—tunnels that even now, the so-called “Free Gaza” members proudly boast of touring and photographing.

The International Solidarity Movement recruited Rachel Corrie at the height of the terror war and instructed her to ignore IDF security warnings. You will hear that they are a peace group. You won’t hear that ISM defined peace in a 2003 press conference as the destruction of Zionism and the Jewish State. You will hear that ISM supports non-violence. You won’t hear that ISM collaborates with terrorists, including Hamas, and even aided the terrorists who took over the Church of the Nativity in 2002. Nor will you hear that ISM leaders called suicide bombing “noble” and that they support terrorism as ”legitimate armed struggle.”

And, as ISM co-founder George Rishmawi said, “If some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” They have used Rachel’s accidental death to accuse Israel of intentionally murdering innocents.

You will hear Israel’s counter-terrorism measures demonized, but not why they were necessary. You won’t hear about the organized, savage suicide bombing war that Palestinians unleashed against Israel in 2000-- a war that murdered over 1000 Israelis (mostly civilians) and wounded over 7,000 others, using bombs filled with razor blades, nails and rat poison; a war fought not for a Palestinian state that Arafat had already rejected, but against Israel's very existence.

And you will not hear about another foreign volunteer who was killed near Gaza. Carlos Chavez, a 20-year-old from Ecuador, was shot in the back while he planted potato seeds at a communal farm in Israel, about 100 meters from the Gaza border. His murder occurred on Jan. 15, 2008—2.5 years after Israel had completely withdrawn from Gaza. His crime was simply being in the state of Israel; the same crime for which the Hamas charter threatens all Israeli Jews with death.

You won’t hear about the incessant, anti-Semitic incitement that pervades Palestinian media, schools, and mosques, instilling hatred of Jews, celebrating those who kill them as heroes and martyrs, and denying Israel’s very right to exist. You won’t hear about the founding document of Hamas, which they still stand by today, and which openly calls for the murder of Jews everywhere. I have copies of excerpts from their charter right here, but it’s easy to find online. You won’t hear about the 8,000 rockets that have been launched into from Gaza into Israel, a small country just the size of New Jersey. You won’t hear about a Palestinian leadership that has failed its people miserably by using the billions they have received in foreign aid to build bombs and rockets, rather than schools and hospitals.

This episode should lead to some serious and thoughtful discussion about the role, and the responsibility, that a JEWISH Film Festival should take within our community. A Jewish Film Festival should not be presenting a film and speaker that demonize Israel, and that are being co-sponsored and promoted by groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee, that support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, or, as AFSC did, host dinner for Mahmoud Ahmedinejad;-- —or perhaps even attract an audience that would applaud that.

No mother should have to bury her child—not Cindy Corrie, not Marla Bennett’s mother Linda, and not Carlos Chavez’ mother Gloria de las Mercedes. As you watch this film and hear from Rachel’s mother, remember how much context is completely missing from the film. Above all, remember the mothers of all the other Rachels as well, and the price they have had to pay simply for being Jews living in the only Jewish country in the world. Thank you very much.


  1. Thanks for speaking up for reason, even to the unreasonable.

  2. Kol ha'kavod.

    Though the reaction doesn't surprise me in the least. It was downright expected in my own former-reasonably-leftist surroundings, and was more and more common in the discourse in other directions as well. Applauding Ahmadinejad? Par for the course.

    And that attitude was entirely the last straw in our internal debate, to move HOME or not to. b'H we finally came HOME a few years ago.

    Our little piece of HOME is in the Shfela.

    Hoping you're all coming right behind us ...

  3. Here's another name for you- Daniel Wultz- a Florida teenager killed while having lunch with his dad, while vacationing in Israel. He was described as the "best target combination we can dream of – American and Zionist," by Abu Nasser, a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

    No- there is no film being made of Daniels life or Daniels death.

  4. Dr. Harris--
    The reason you were so badly received was that you refused to acknowledge the deaths of Palestinian civilians. You refused to acknowledge that bulldozing the house of a pharmacist--which was not linked to any underground tunnels--without prior notice or the rule of law--is an immoral act. The audience supported the efforts of the AFSC to work for peace because the AFSC has been following this mission since 1917, i.e. 30 years *before* the founding of the state of Israel. I'm sure many audience members support a two-state solution. Not all of us loved the film. But the hateful diatribe you gave us before it started did nothing to further the cause of dialogue or the popularity of the Israeli government in the SF Jewish community. Shame on you!

  5. excellent speech Mike!!! I am so glad you did this. I remember when I first arrived in San Francisco several years ago and was checking everything out, I went to the SFJFF and there was no pro-Israel voice at all. There was no one presenting the pro-IDF, pro-Israel position - not inside, not outside, nowhere.

    I wasn't paying much attn to politics or Israel at the time, just interested in anything Jewish. They presented a film and a panel discussion of reserve soldiers who refused to serve in the IDF, making all sorts of attacks on Israeli policy and the IDF.

    They came across articulate and poised and reasonable to people like myself, who at the time, was uneducated about the facts, was uneducated about the extent of the propoganda campaign being waged against Israel and the Jewish people right now.

    I am so glad you gave that speech to expose the lies being spread by the Rachel Corrie film, JVP, AFS, and all the other anti-semites - so that innocent people like myself of several years ago, wandering into the SFJFF, aren't duped into thinking the GARBAGE they show at that film festival is representative of the position of Bay Area Jews. I, for one, will spread your speech far and wide. People need to know the truth about Rachel Corrie. The IDF is the most moral army in the world! Long Live the IDF!!!

  6. Anonymouse:

    You can't possible be serious?

    "The reason you were so badly received was that you refused to acknowledge the deaths of Palestinian civilians."

    No, Dr. Harris was treated badly because the JVP dominated crowd had no interest in hearing a viewpoint different from their own.
    If the purpose of having this film at the festival was to facilitate dialog- it failed miserably. The audience was not interested in dialog.

    "the hateful diatribe"

    Its repeated word for word here. I personally challenge you, anonymouse- show me one line that is hateful.

    I'll be waiting.

  7. Since there is a group called "Jewish Voice for Peace",

    why isn't there a "Muslim Voice for Peace"?

    A "Muslim Voice for Peace" that denounces rocket attacks on Israel, denounces the Hamass Charter that dehumanizes Jews as sons of pigs and monkeys, that denounces attacks Freemasons, Lions and Rotarians (Search the charter for Freemasons and you'll see), that denounces Hamass for brainwashing their children to seek martyrdom).

    Is the reason that there isn't a "Muslim Voice for Peace" is due to the fear that such a group would be declared collaborationist, "Zionist", kaffir, dishonorable, counter-revolutionary, counter-jihadist.

  8. With friends like you, Israel needs no enemies! Seriously, an argument ad-nauseum based on an appeal to emotion? Is that all you got? With most of the content being debunked years ago?

    Israel is in deep trouble if the only people who will speak for it are imbeciles. The more people like you talk for Israel, the easier it is to show Israel for what it is.

  9. Anonymous,

    What Jewish Voice for Peace should be called is Jews Proud to be Ashamed to be Jewish. Or, Jews Encouraging the Destruction of the Jewish State. More succcint, Jews Who Love to Committ to Reason.

    They have no business referring to themselves as a Jewish Group, since they are about as Jewish as Jews for Jesus. They are what we call Jews of Convenience, people who refer to themselves as Jewish only when convenient to do so. Many of these ilk are only Jewish because they were born of a Jewish mother and they have not officially converted to another religion. Other terms for them include non-Jewish Jews and self-hating Jews.
    One of their leaders, Matthew Taylor, was very tight with ISM member Tristan Anderson. I would wonder about the connection between the two groups. They claim to be Jewish, but stand at rallies in solidarity with groups like ANSWER, who have outright anti-Semitic signs.
    Jewish Voice for Peace should not be taken seriously in any away. They are nothing but manipulative, two-faced scum.

  10. I am fascinated by the post by "Anonymus about "Hate Speech". Having actually listened to the speech, I did not discern any such "hate" nor in fact, any inaccuarcies. In my experience there are those naive folks who are so taken with the collection of often repeated myths referred to as the "Palestinian narative", that they reject real facts and documented history to the extent that such things conflict with their treasured myths. I call this uniquely deluded closed mindedness, "willful ignorance." It has become all too typical a phenomena among our local naive supporters of the Palestinians.

  11. Great speech.

    The crowd's cheers for Ahmadinejad at a time when his goons are daily clamping down on a true democratic spirit said it all.

  12. Imagine if a thief comes to your home, kills some of your children, kick some of them out, and lock you in the basement for sixty years, while raging havoc in your house and garden, is no crime, it’s only a matter of difference of opinion.

    Then you are told that the only solution is to negotiate with the murderer thief; however the thief refuses to talk to you because you are loud, and you are disturbing his peace; you keep making noise in the basement, and you throw some fire works out to your garden to get the attention of some neighbours with conscious.

    Then finally the police intervene, and then after arming the thief to his teeth they persuade him to agree to talk to you.

    At long last the thief agrees to talk to you, but he comes with a list of demands, including:

    No talks about your children who’ve been kicked out,
    No talks about any room in the house,
    No talks about his incessant torture of your children,
    No talks about allowing you to use the bathroom upstairs,
    No talks about which corner of the basement he might give you

    Then to add the icing on the cake, of course, you are not supposed to moan or mention your pain over the past sixty years

    You must only be grateful, that the murderer thief would humble himself and talk to you.

  13. Rachel Corrie was not a child.

    She was a young adult with every privilege in the world, but no direction, and a serious case of over-mothering. She was rich, spoiled, and raised in special snowflakeism...and self-hatred. She drifted, maundered, and couldn't even muster the gumption to finish a bachelor's degree at a non-grading college.

    She grew up in my community. I knew her. She was fragile, confused, unmotivated, and had her mind seriously twisted by a few professors at her college.

    She finally got a working class Jew to achieve her suicide for her. As a result her well-off WASP parents have a new post-retirement career: reconstructing her as a saint...and a perpetual little girl, a female Peter Pan.

    We who refuse to accept the canonization of this seriously deficient young adult like this:

    Cynthia Ozick