Last week I went to see a screening of the movie Between Two Worlds at UC Berkeley. I had missed the film when it was shown at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last year, and I was curious to see it (after all, not only was I briefly in the film, I had played a role in the event that the filmmakers, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, acknowledge as the motivation ). I was also curious as to what the tenor of the discussion would be afterwards, given that another key event in the film was the rancorous debate before the Cal Student Senate over the divestment bill several years ago.
The movie itself starts with the controversy that arose at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 2009, and immediately portrays the situation inaccurately. The cause of the widespread community furor was not simply the choice of the film “Rachel”, a film about the death of Rachel Corrie, the idealistic young woman recruited by the International Solidarity Movement to go to Gaza and serve as human shields for weapons smuggling. It was the additional invitation to Rachel’s mother Cindy to speak at the showing, and the choice by the SFJFF to partner with two organizations (Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee) that support the BDS movement. The SFJFF has a history of showing films that portray Israel negatively; none had created the reaction that this program engendered. Claiming that the outcry was simply on the basis of the film allowed Peter Stein, then the executive director of the SFJFF, to proclaim his surprise at the reaction—when in fact it was immediately obvious on publication of the SFJFF program that this was a very unusual event.
The portion of the film that dealt with the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation funding guidelines, which the filmmakers themselves outspokenly oppose, was far from even handed. While interviewing Peter Stein, Jewish Voice for Peace spokesperson Cecilie Surasky, and others opposed to the guidelines, there was no interview of JCRC Executive Director Doug Kahn or JCF CEO Jennifer Gorovitz. John Rothmann, formerly of KGO Radio and a prominent local author, speaker and activist, was interviewed but only one sentence of his was included in that segment. The fact that even this film did not generate a lot of controversy when shown at the SFJFF is proof that the guidelines are NOT precluding discussion; they just provide that the Federation isn’t going to use its funds to provide legitimacy for anti-Israel groups.
The film then meandered through the Berkeley divestment debate, the filmmakers’ own family histories and made its way to Jerusalem and the controversy over the proposed Museum of Tolerance to be built over the site of an abandoned Muslim cemetery. While Rabbi Hier from the SWC was at least given an opportunity to state his case, the film failed to include a key point that Rabbi Hier could not have failed to mention: that in 1945 the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem had planned a six story building on the site to house, among other offices, their own! The museum itself was to be built on the site of a municipal parking lot that had existed there for decades without any complaints from the religious authorities, and which prior to that had been the site of a hotel proposed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Though I had not seen the film prior to that night, none of this was really surprising. Alan Snitow had defended the SFJFF and claimed that I provoked the audience’s response to the film that day at the Castro Theater; you can view my speech yourself and judge whether an audience at a Jewish Film Festival should have been provoked by my words. (At least in the discussion section afterwards, Snitow did allow me to point out a few of the flaws I noted in the film—and nobody jeered. )
After the film, I approached one of the other members of the audience, Tom Pessah, a perpetual UC Berkeley student who is one of the leaders of Students for Justice in Palestine and a proponent of the so-called “one state solution” which would turn Israel into the 24th Arab nation. (Not only would this turn the Jews into a minority in an area noteworthy for its treatment of those who are different , it would-- if recent trends are any indication-- lead to Islamist rule extended from Gaza to the entire land of Israel). I wanted to ask Pessah why he wrote an article in 972 Magazine appropriately condemning the anti-Semitism displayed by Greta Berlin, leader of the Free Gaza Movement, but tolerated the same Holocaust revisionism, blood libels and other anti-Semitic ideology from Hamas and the PA—backed with missiles in the case of Hamas. His answer—that he wasn’t responsible for Hamas, but only for his own “civil society movement”—doesn’t really wash given that he supports the flotillas which provide PR benefits to Hamas and which Hamas is involved in organizing. And given that his own group, SJP, still adheres to the “Zionism is racism” libel that even the UN abandoned years ago. He even had the temerity to later post this on an anti-Israel listserve: “Stand With Us guy comes up to me in an event this week to tell me my article against antisemitism was a "good start". A bit patronizing, but I'm glad he and his kind read it - especially the parts aligning this anti-racism to the support of BDS and the Right of Return”.
News flash, Tom. The fact that you can at least recognize Nazi-level Jew hatred when it slaps you in the face doesn’t make you the arbiter of “anti-racism”. BDS is racist at its core: it has at its core the anti-Semitic concept that among all the nations, ONLY THE JEWS do not have the right to national self-determination. That of all nations, ONLY ISRAEL does not have the right to define who can enter its country and become a citizen. And that anti-Israel activists can create their own “international law” – the fictional “right of return”--that applies only to Palestinians. And if you think that Greta Berlin was an exception and that the anti-Israel movement isn’t rife with anti-Semitism, we’ve already seen plenty of evidence that she’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think the next few months will show how the Israel-hating Jews will find themselves caught between a Jewish community that rejects them politically and their fellow Israel haters who use anti-Zionism as a front for anti-Semitism—essentially, between two worlds.