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.

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