Rachel: Was it worth it San Francisco Jewish Film Festival? Was it, really? Really??

Did I really have to witness folks cheering Ahmadinejad at a Jewish Film Festival? Was it absolutely necessary to be subjected to the catcalls and the rudeness of the anti-Israel crowd who tried to drown out a pro-Israel speakers voice? Are Jewish community funds really being spent to provide a venue to an audience that cheers at the thought of boycotts and divestment against Israel?

The JTA reported that:

Despite festival director Peter Stein’s plea not to interrupt or disrespect any element of the screening, including speakers before or after, many audience members hissed, booed and shouted at those whose opinions clashed with their own… The booed opinions nearly always were supportive of Israel.

So much for Stein’s hopes for a “civic discourse.” And the worst part of this? The really worst part, is that as a community we’ve just reinforced erroneous notions about the situation in the middle east held even by otherwise knowledgeable and involved people like Charles Bronfman as witnessed by a recent opinion piece he authored in Haaretz. In that piece, Bronfman, head of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and one of the founders of Taglit Birthright Israel, implied that it is the lack of peace in the Middle East that is creating divisions between Israeli and diaspora Jewry – that the disconnect many young Jews feel with Israel and Judaism has at its root the pounding Israel’s image gets in the media and in political discourse.

Bronfman was however correct in noting that:

Israel is having limited success in telling its side of the story, according to Bronfman, who last week concluded one of many short visits to Israel. “We turned from David to Goliath in 1982, with the invasion into Lebanon, and the Arabs became David. Now everybody’s worried about the Palestinians. Now we’re occupiers, oppressors, who live by the sword. That’s what you see in the media and it festers and has effects on the general population and on Jews as well.”

And therein lies the rub. Israel may not be a perfect country. At 61 years of age, it is still in early stages of its national development. But in our desire to address criticism, we’ve allowed ourselves to begin a self-questioning process that the other side has never, ever engaged in. We’ve allowed the focus of criticism to be pointed solely at Israel while infantilizing the Palestinians by not holding them up to the same standards. The issue isn’t Israel’s intransigence with respect to seeking Peace. The issue isn’t Israel’s conduct in defending itself against enemies who to this day wish for nothing more than to wipe us off the face of the earth. The issue is that we have, as a community, abdicated our responsibility to present the facts and tell the world exactly what it is that is going on here. Who are we supposed to have peace with? A Palestinian leadership divided into two camps, one that openly calls for our destruction and another that just keeps those aspirations quietly hidden away from Western observers?

The format of the presentation of Simone Bitton’s film Rachel by the SFJFF served only to further alienate Jews from Israel and from their Judaism. There was no constructive dialog, there was no nuanced analysis. It was a boneheaded move of epic proportions. The audience and the event was dominated by members of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network who posted a message on IndyBay.org asking “for those against Israeli apartheid to have a presence at the film and oppose Zionists who are trying to shut the movie down and prevent Cindy Corrie from speaking.” The valiant guardians of free speech were the ones booing any statement they disagreed with. As a community, we gave these fuckers a stage. We granted them a measure of legitimacy. And how much have we advanced the cause of peace in the Middle East? Not one little bit. Not one tiny iota. We are fucking idiots.

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