The SF Jewish Film Festival has for years been a source of pride for my mom. She enjoys the great films they screen, buying a pass most years, in addition to volunteering. My mom saves each program guide for me to review, often marking down films that she thinks I would have enjoyed and the films that she enjoyed. I have a pile of those program guides somewhere.
So on account of my mom, I am pretty familiar with the SFJFF. The Festival has screened an incredible selection of Jewish films from around the world, some of them controversial. And they have screened their share of anti-Israel films. (There are lots of Jews and others willing to pay money to watch films about just how terrible those Zionist Jews are.)
However, now even long-time supporters of the Festival are asking questions about the goals of the Festival, and its board of directors, after it was revealed that the Festival is screening Rachel and seems to have been hijacked for use as a political platform.
“Rachel,” a film about the dead American activist Rachel Corrie, and her activist mother, are headlining the SF Jewish Film Festival this year. The Israeli Consulate is furious, as are many local and national Jewish groups.
Peter Stein, the film festival’s executive director said in J Weekly:
“I know there are many members of the community who would prefer if the festival stayed away from programming films on difficult topics or topics of passionate division of opinion
“That being said, if we, as an arts organization, are going to remain relevant in our time, it really is part of our role to catalyze conversation, however uncomfortable it may be.”
Stein argues that he has brought lots of other controversial stuff. However, Mr. Stein, Rachel Corrie is different.
Corrie is a martyred saint to those who chant “Death to Israel” and “Zionism is Racism”. Corrie is a icon of the Palestinian Resistance whose photo hangs along side those of suicide bombers. Corrie is a hero to those who want Israel gone and replaced by a bi-national state without a Jewish character.
Including the film and her mom Cindy, who have appeared at Israel Hate Weeks nationwide, and at UC Irvine’s week-long program, “Never Again? The Palestinian Holocaust,” is asking for, is planning for, enormous controversy, disunity, and acrimony.
Some might argue that Stein is good at his job. He is keeping the world focused on his film festival. Amid budget cuts, recession, and global troubles, he has gotten the Jewish community up in arms both in support and in disgust. I wonder how the Festival funders feel about the Festival becoming a platform for political turmoil?
Critics are pointing out that this screening is also creating huge publicity for a marginal group Jewish Voice for Peace, whose acting national director Rachell Pfeffer, now sits on the board of the SFJFF. J Weekly writes that, “Local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace… and the American Friends Service Committee… and others who have taken up the cause of the people of Gaza, signed on to help the festival promote “Rachel” to their constituencies.”
Meanwhile, the Festival board and all of their sponsors have been barraged by emails and criticism. They realize now that they hit THE MOTHER OF ALL FLASH POINTS for the pro-Israel camp – St. Rachel. They are trying to include one of the detractors to deflect some of the criticism and don’t understand why they are being singled out for such scrutiny. After all, in Israel people debate all kinds of things, why not here in America, you can hear supporters of the Festival say. It is true, in Israel, they have all kinds of detractors, and critics. However, the stated goal of those that promote Rachel Corrie and her mother are not benign nor constructive. They seek the dismantling of the Jewish state of Israel. Even Cindy Corrie herself is a pawn in a much larger game of destroying support for Israel among average Americans, liberal Christians, and on college campuses.
This whole episode coincides with the Three Weeks, a time that Jews have been divided by our enemies, and have historically treated each other with scorn and hate. This hatred led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. This hatred tears at the fabric of the Jewish community, and helps alienate already alienated young Jews who don’t know what to think or feel about being Jewish. Israel’s detractors scored a major victory this week.