Some good news. Three women at a Unitarian church outside Boston insist on showing a movie critical of Israel, even when the Jewish community tries to censor them. This story can only embarrass the organized Jewish community in the end, on free speech grounds, and serve the cause of Palestinians human rights.
The “Occupation of the American Mind” is a documentary about how and why Americans have such an uninformed view of the conflict. It features Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Yousef Munayyer, Rula Jebreal, Amira Hass, Rashid Khalidi and Steve Walt, among others, and has been endorsed by Deepa Kumar, Avi Shlaim, Neve Gordon, Medea Benjamin, etc. Doug Rushkoff says:
“A stunning exposé on how propaganda drives public opinion and, in turn, our understanding of reality. Here’s the story of how American perceptions of the Middle East — as well as resulting legislation and military strategy — are engineered: from focus group to talking points to mortar fire.”
The film is scheduled to be screened Sunday afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead and there’s a ton of resistance. A couple of rabbis along with people who work at a foundation dedicated to enhancing Jewish identity by creating connections to Israel have led a drive to have the screening cancelled. They got 158 signatures, mostly from the Jewish community, in opposition to the Occupation doc.
The three women from the church’s social action committee who booked the film are standing tall. But the resistance to the film has demonstrated the film’s theme. You try to speak fairly about the conflict in the U.S., and people get very angry, and do what they can to shut you down.
The Occupation of the American Mind, which is narrated by Roger Waters, has never been subject to such censorship forces before. That is also a good sign, probably. There has been some pushback at campus screenings, I’m told: the UCLA appearance drew hostile comments in the Daily Bruin, Breitbart and Jerusalem Post; and the Case-Western screening got letters in the paper. But the film has shown hundreds of times around the country without incident.
Here’s some of the hostile press, none of which describes the film or its message plainly. From the the Jerusalem Post:
“As Jewish people and non-Jewish people as well, we feel very strongly that it’s antisemitic and it sniffs of Nazism, which is very upsetting to Jewish people given our history,” [Lappin foundation head Robert] Lappin said.
Lappin said he does not dispute that people have the right to see the film and make their own decisions about its content, but he said it should not be shown at a church.
“People can see it online,” he said.
We will raise consciousness about the strength of the Palestinian case, if only Americans will stand up for it. One organizer stands tall, in the Marblehead Local:
Jane Casler, who serves on the [church’s Social Action] committee, said Monday the protest didn’t really surprise her.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we were fairly certain it would be controversial,” she said. “We’re trying to answer everybody and deal with this as honestly as we can.”
Carolyn Corzine, chairman of the Social Action Committee, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue that has long been on her mind, which is what led her to suggest showing the film.
While Israel appears modern, the West Bank is a very different world and it’s easy to see how unbalanced the perception is, she said, adding, “I think people will be surprised.”
There’s a lot of invective being thrown at the organizers.
Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez, of Temple Sinai, said… “Having Roger Waters narrate the movie is like having a movie on race narrated by David Duke…”
Nuts. A more instructive metaphor comes from opponent Faith Quintero, who said that “she feels that inviting Israel supporters to a place that has conducted anti-Israel study groups is like inviting a runner to a marathon when the opponent has a 25-mile head start.”
Quintero created her own fact sheet to counter the film. Here are some assertions:
Before Israel’s separation barrier was built in 2000, Islamists set off bombs that killed Israeli civilians in pizza parlors, discos and buses. Until then, people in the disputed territories had free movement into Israel without the checkpoints that are there today.
Palestinians are marginalized throughout the Arab world, kept in refugee camps, prohibited from buying land and getting jobs
A third member of the social action committee is the church’s pastor. She points out that the pressure campaign is what the film documents:
[UUCM Pastor Wendy] Von Courter said given the pressure to cancel the showing, it seemed ironic that a central message of the film is that U.S. citizens are prevented from hearing more than a single narrative about the conflict.
The best part of this protest is the claim that that the film will set back the great peace process! The Lynn Item, a North Shore daily, cites the other local rabbi who opposes the film’s being shown. Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, MA, said:
“The film takes not just a critical view of Israel, but it promotes lies and falsehoods and it’s that tactic of lies and falsehoods that ultimately promotes extremism and are detriments to democracy and detriments to ultimately any peaceful sort of resolution to the conflict in Israel…. When you have a film that is motivated by that type of mindset, it only serves that end, which is the elimination of the state of Israel and it doesn’t serve the idea of any peaceable solution.”
By the way, this is the reason that good liberals opposed the Goldstone Report, it would undermine the two-state solution. Pastor Von Courter responded calmly, saying
the church’s social action committee found the film was a good fit for its continued exploration of the road to justice for all people. She said some members of the committee have firsthand experience in the Middle East and the church’s larger congregation and denomination is quite familiar with the issue.
Here is the ad from the Marblehead Reporter.
Here’s a headline, in the Jewish Journal echoing that ad: Area Jews ask: “Why would a church show an anti-Semitic movie?” This article is very pro-Israel.
The movie makes vast assertions about the power of Israel to influence American opinion and alludes to a far-reaching conspiracy of anti-Palestinian reporting without evidence to back up that assertion. It lumps the “American media” into one bucket. Also, there is no mention of conflicting opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within Israel, within the US or within the American Jewish community.
The movie’s review of the history of the conflict fails to mention that Israel was invaded by its neighbors in 1948. When discussing Gaza, the film does not mention the tunnel system that alarmed Israeli security interests. Nor does it discuss the Palestinian educational curriculum – which encourages children to hate Jews and Israelis, and does not recognize Israel in any of its textbook maps.
The onslaught is a reminder that in the most liberal communities, the pro-Israel exception is alive and well. As Barney Frank, who used to represent an adjoining district, told Jeff Halper years ago, I see what the settlements are doing, but I can only come out against them if you can give me 5000 Jews in my district who will support me on the move. Otherwise it’s political suicide.
The established Jewish community is reactionary on criticism of the Jewish state. It got that job 50 years ago. It’s wearing thin, and btw, efforts to shut down a movie only help the other side.