Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Peter Stein Should Resign from the SFJFF

The Bay Area Jewish community continues to deal with the fallout from last summer's programming debacle by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival--first the ill-conceived invitation to Cindy Corrie (along with the choices of Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee as co-presenters, both of whom now have openly endorsed the anti-Zionist cause), and then the openly hostile response to a pro-Israel statement made at the event itself by an audience that appeared to have been mostly recruited from one of the many anti-Israel rallies held locally.

While the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco is trying to develop an appropriate set of guidelines to ensure that its own beneficiaries do not misuse their contributions for anti-Israel events, the Film Festival itself has been relatively unrepetant. Their leadership has admitted that they mishandled the "Rachel" event-- but NOT in their programming, rather by failing to anticipate the community outrage. And they have promised to make changes in the future--again, NOT by promising that they will not provide a platform for anti-Israel activists, but by promising "to improve the way we anticipate, communicate about and present potentially controversial programming."

It is unlikely that any changes will be forthcoming in the operations of the SFJFF without change in its leadership. Peter Stein, the executive director of the SFJFF, had personal responsibility for the choices made in the programming of the "Rachel" event. Without such change, we can expect similar programming at the SFJFF in the future--the kind of programming that appeals to the audience that came to see "Rachel" and hear Cindy Corrie.

There is an online petition calling upon Peter Stein to take the honorable step and resign his position. This is not an issue of any personal animosity for the way I was treated by the audience at the Castro; rather, it is a recognition that there is an impassible chasm between his concept of what a Jewish Film Festival should be, and what our community can and should support. The Film Festival has the right to present any films it wishes, and to seek funding from any sources. It does not have an automatic claim to support from the local Jewish Community Federations or from members of the Jewish community, just because it puts "Jewish" in its name. Just like Jewish Voice for Peace, it will be marginalized within its own community and find its audience elsewhere. This doesn't have to happen to an organization that has been, and can once again be, the cultural jewel of the Bay Area Jewish community.

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