Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rachel Corrie Documentary Sparks Uproar at Jewish Film Festival

Documentary sparks uproar at Jewish film fest

Rachel Corrie

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has come under siege after deciding to show a documentary about Rachel Corrie, a Washington state 23-year-old killed in 2003 while trying to prevent an Israeli military bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian's home.

Whether Corrie naively put herself in harm's way in support of terrorists or was intentionally killed by the Israeli military is the nexus of the controversy.

Compounding the issue, festival organizers invited Corrie's mother, Cindy, to speak after today's showing at the Castro Theatre of the film "Rachel." It is one of 71 films at this year's festival, which includes two films profiling kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

The reaction has been outrage. The festival board's president stepped down from her role, opening-night ceremonies were boycotted by some, and Israel Consul General Akiva Tor said it was a "big mistake to invite Mrs. Corrie."

At the core of the debate are questions about how broadly Jews can discuss Israel within their own community - and how Jews represent Israel to the broader world. It is also overlaid with accusations of the "new anti-Semitism," prejudice that is disguised as particular criticisms of Israel, the only Jewish state.

"The furor is much larger than this one film or this one speaker," said Peter L. Stein, the festival's executive director. "It reveals a rift in our community that we all need to help understand and hopefully heal."

Family feud

The 29-year-old festival is the oldest and largest Jewish film festival in the nation, yet it's also like a small family. The film festival's board includes members with close links to both the accusers and those accused of the new anti-Semitism.

Allegations of new anti-Semitism have been particularly vociferous from the Koret and Taube foundations, longtime backers of the festival. The foundations criticized Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization widely considered to be on the vanguard of Christian pacificism. The festival had asked the two groups to promote "Rachel" within their constituencies. The two Jewish foundations issued a joint statement labeling the Quaker and Jewish peace organizations as "two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic" groups associated with "groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish state."

Mervyn Danker, San Francisco director of the American Jewish Committee, also called the Quaker group "virulently anti-Semitic" because it had co-hosted - with other Christian pacificists - a dinner with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president has called the Holocaust a myth and declared that "Israel must be wiped off the map."

"This goes beyond the acceptable realms of open discourse," said Danker.

The Quaker group

Mark Graham, external affairs director for the Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee, said his organization doesn't support "anything that aids and abets terror," nor does it have any boycotts against Israel.

"We're a Quaker pacificist organization, in our founding and our roots," he said. "Things that promote violence, such as arms sales, are things we're against."

As for the dinner with Ahmadinejad, Graham said, "fundamental in the DNA of this organization is that differences can be resolved through dialogue. Having a dinner was one way to have a dialogue."

Cindy Corrie, meanwhile, said she was surprised at the uproar at this festival, which did not happen at a screening of "Rachel" at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

"I don't think it has a whole lot to do with me," she said. "It has more to do with the discussion that is happening within the Jewish community and how that discussion has grown - which is a very healthy thing."

For more information about "Rachel" and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, go to www.sfjff.org.

No comments: