Sunday, July 26, 2009

Addendum re RACHEL

On a more personal note ...

I am realizing, some 8 hours after the screening ended, that I really resent having to sustain my awareness of the local and global politics of showing the film, not to mention the local politics and possible consequences of my showing up at the film, rather than being present with the political situation the film describes and its personal ramifications for me and people I love.

I mean, this film is traumatic. We see multiple still shots of Rachel Corrie as she lay dying and dead. We see soldiers, most of them younger than I am, admitting that they believe their actions in Gaza were wrong, and we see one saying that he can't say he won't do the same thing again, the next time he's called for Reserve duty. I was on the verge of tears for some six hours after the film ended (which is not a good state to be in when driving across the Bay Bridge) (but it's okay, I made it safely).

I wish I could have sat with those feelings, discussed those issues, learned from those aspects of the film I agree with and those aspects I disagree with. I wish I could have cried with my friends about it, and wrestled together with the implications for our own behavior as anti-occupation Jews with all our various privileges, citizenships, and complicated positionalities. I wish I could have done what you're supposed to do with documentaries!

Instead I was constantly aware that the audience's reaction might affect JFF's decision about going through with next week's screening, that this controversy might once again tear my synagogue community apart (or tear me apart from it), and that my presence at this screening might get back to people I work with, and have who knows what consequences in my workplace.

I feel angry that those who sought to silence this film succeeded, not in getting the screening canceled, but, at least partly, in ruining it for me.

This makes me think about sustainability and self-care. About how to build healthy communities in the midst of a profoundly unhealthy society. About building in some debriefing, mutual support, and dancing whenever we lay plans to attend and/or protest a politically fraught event.

At the very least, we should have brought some chocolate.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Support SF JFF Screening of RACHEL

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's showing of Rachel has been met with protest from (what I perceive to be) a small but wealthy segment of the Jewish community that is so Zionist that it considers it inappropriate for a Jewish film festival to screen any film that is not explicitly and completely pro-Israeli-government.

Muzzle Watch (a project of Jewish Voice for Peace) has an excellent piece on it here.

Rachel is a documentary exploring the case of Rachel Corrie, a young activist from the U.S. who traveled to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to act as a "witness" and human shield. ISM members hoped by their presence to deter IDF (Israeli military) soldiers from harming the Palestinians with whom the ISM members lived. In one of their direct actions, attempting to block soldiers from demolishing a Palestinian home, Corrie was killed when an IDF soldier ran her over with a D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer.

As the SF JFF's statement about the film notes, Rachel offers a fastidiously balanced point of view. IDF spokespeople are given equal airtime with ISM leaders. Even the soldiers involved in the incident (including the one who actually drove the bulldozer) have their say, and the filmmaker treats their testimony with complete neutrality and respect. The film focuses solely on the circumstances surrounding Rachel Corrie's death, and does not even mention the broader context of ongoing occupation that drew Corrie there as a solidarity worker in the first place. (Neither does it play the other side of the "context" card, by citing suicide bombings or other intifada tactics as an excuse for killing civilians, as is so common in pro-Israeli-government messaging.)

Right now SF JFF needs to hear from people who support the festival's decision to show this film. It may be especially useful from San Francisco Jews, but also from anyone who feels drawn to write.

Writing in support of SF JFF is not uncomplicated. As the Festival director proudly announced today during the SF screening (there's another next week in Berkeley), the JFF is showing 37 other films from or connected to Israel. Many of them are explicitly pro-government. It goes without saying that I do not support everything the JFF does. In fact, in line with the current call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, including selective cultural boycott, I would not feel right attending any Israeli film that is funded in part of in whole by the Israeli government, or that doesn't seek to criticize the occupation and/or benefit Palestinians.

Nevertheless, I think that communicating my support for JFF's decision to show this film is strategic in two ways: 1) to interrupt the assumption and assertion that all Jewish institutions are or should be Zionist, and 2) to assuage the fear within Jewish institutions that any Jewish institution that violates this taboo will lose community support and funding.

This is a moment when some Jewish institutions in the U.S. are beginning to acknowledge that a significant slice of the Jewish community does not support Israeli government policies or actions. These acknowledgments are baby steps, but crucial ones, toward opening up a real dialogue within the Jewish community that could lead (maybe is already leading) to reduced U.S. Jewish donations to Israel, increased international pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian rights, and increased international commitment to create the conditions necessary for Palestinian self-determination. Our support for SF JFF's decision can help SF JFF not be scared by donor's threats, and perhaps begin to recognize even more of the spectrum of perspectives on Israel and Palestine that exist in increasingly public ways in U.S. Jewish communities.

If you would like to show your support for SF JFF's decision to screen Rachel, please visit the SF JFF website for information on next week's Berkeley showing, and also visit the site of Jewish Voice for Peace (one of the co-sponsors of this film at SF JFF, along with American Friends Service Committee) to learn more about the situation and how you can direct your letters of support. You can also check out this Facebook group, whose purpose is not very defined as yet, but has something to do with making space for queer anti-occupation voices in the LGBTQI Jewish community in the SF Bay Area.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Queer Jews Will Not Be Silenced"

From the group on Facebook titled "Queer Jews Will Not Be Silenced":

We, Queer members of the Bay Area Jewish Community and our allies, are deeply saddened by events surrounding the “Jews March for Pride” contingent in this year’s San Francisco Pride Parade.

We wanted to march with Jews March for Pride because we are proud to be Queer Jews and allies. We felt excited and privileged to have a place in the San Francisco Pride Parade to celebrate our whole selves as Jews and Queers.

However, our sense of pride in the contingent was shattered when we learned that not only would the Israeli Consulate be marching with Israeli flags, but also that “inclusion monitors” would censor anything that deviated from the narrow message of “Jews support LGBT equality.” We see this as a contradiction. Support for the Israeli government is a political position that is not synonymous with support for LGBT equality, and is not synonymous with Judaism. Because these strong Israeli symbols would be dominating the contingent, we felt we could not in good conscious march without publically repudiating those messages. And although the planners reached out to include us, we felt excluded when any disagreement we voiced was declared “off message” and inappropriate.

This illusion of unity, at the price of silencing some members, is a deliberate trend that is plaguing the Jewish Community. Many Jewish organizations portray a unified front of support for Israel, and allow this single message to come at the expense of the diverse needs of our Jewish Community. In fact, we have a range of views on Israel/Palestine and our commitment to Jewish and Queer communities lies far beyond this single issue. We reject the dichotomy that 'Pro-Palestine' is synonymous with 'Anti-Israel,' and encourage space for deeper conversations about the complexities of these issues. Additionally, we refuse to let discussions about Israel detract from the many other struggles for justice our communities are engaged in.

Prior to the Parade day, we were not sure that we would be allowed to march at all. We arrived holding signs such as “No Pride in Occupation,” and “Feygele for Free Palestine,” and to our surprise, we did not get kicked out. We were met with a positive reception from many participants and observers of the parade, and a few hostile reactions. But the real consequences of our action have occurred in the days and weeks following the parade. Many of us have faced social sanctions in our personal and professional lives. Some of us who work in Jewish organizations have been harshly shamed in our workplaces and our political views have become a topic of discussion amongst our peers and supervisors. We feel vulnerable in the very community that had supposedly organized to support us as Queer Jews.

Rather than retreating to safer, less public expressions of our convictions, we are asking you to join us in resisting the silencing in our communities. Let's seize this opportunity for discussions, programming and policy change, and push to create spaces where our voices are allowed and welcomed.

Join our group on Facebook to show support, stay updated and get involved.