Despite angry protest, Massachusetts screening of anti-occupation doc gets positive response

Activism
on 21 Comments

Marblehead, Massachusetts is the kind of small town where a community online board of events includes posts about a missing cat and calls for recommendations on who can clear a gutter—that is until a notice of a film about how Israel is covered in American media was published. Allegations of anti-Israel propaganda were lobbed, not against the coastal community’s residents or filmmakers, but the documentary’s narrator, Roger Waters. 

One resident called Waters “an anti-Semitic woman.” Another compared him to former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke.

The film, Occupation of the American Mind by Loretta Alper, Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally, played on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist church of Marblehead, but not before sparking a small town controversy. A campaign to cancel the screening was launched through an open letter published in local papers. The letter alleged the film is anti-Semitic because it uses an anti-Israel lens, backed up by a list of bullet points claims like: “Palestinian children are raised from childhood to hate Jews and Christians”—never mind a substantial minority of Palestinians are Christians.

The Lappin Foundation circulating an open letter decrying the screening of the film the Occupation of the American Mind. The letter ran as a paid advertisement in local newspapers. (Screenshot: Facebook)

Facebook posts on the documentary the Occupation of the American Mind, published on the All Marblehead Happenings bulletin. (Screenshot: Facebook)

The letter was circulated on social media by the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, an organization that sends teens on trips to Israel and has made donations to far right groups including Honest Reporting, CAMERA and the Clarion Fund, the latter categorized as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Marblehead Reported printed Lappin paid to run the letter in papers, but did not stipulate if the funds were provided by Lappin personally or his foundation. 

Coverage of the screening and protests was published by the regional papers, the Jewish Journal (a Salem outlet that receives funding from the Lappin Foundation according to a quick search of the org’s most recent tax returns-FY 20152014 and 2013), the Daily Item and the Salem News.

The Occupation of the American Mind [Trailer] from Media Education Foundation on Vimeo.

From the write-ups, it seemed all of the protesters were out against the film.

“It’s insensitive. It’s propagating hate to Israel and it’s using an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against the Jews in a movie. That’s why I’m here,” demonstrator Eli Davidyan told the Salem News.

Yet according to the filmmakers, there was far less brouhaha from critics. Not mentioned by the local Massachusetts press corp, was that on the day of the screening members of the group Jewish Voice for Peace gathered outside of the church signs supporting the showing of the documentary. 

“The screening happened, nothing blew up, but there was high drama,” said Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp in an emailed report. According to Alper, most local media missed that many Jewish community members supported the screening. I’ll add, the local outlets that covered the protests against the film failed to include a disclosure note about the letter being an initiative of one of their donors.

The filmmakers credited the three women of the church’s social justice committee, which arranged the screening, and also noted one exception that stood out in the reporting. Alper and Earp write:

[A] few dozen protesters out front calling us anti-Semites and Nazis as we walked in, telling us we had blood on our hands, etc., and a packed house for the screening — which most of the protesters attended. Interesting thing was that there were no disruptions from them during the screening. Our theory is that when they actually saw the movie that Robert Lappin had convinced them was going to be a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, they were surprised it was actually a movie about the very intimidation tactics they’d been using over the preceding week to smear us and shut down the screening. Regardless of them, the response to the film was overwhelmingly positive, lots of support from progressive Jews in attendance, and a robust Q & A in which questions about anti-Semitism from the Lappin crowd more or less lost their luster and fell apart under the light of rational thinking.

But, of course, despite what was clearly a triumph for the amazing women who stood their ground and showed this film in the face of a truly stunning barrage of hate, the two most widely read and trusted local newspapers in the area published stories about the screening this morning that seem to have been dispatched from an alternative universe. The Salem News basically erased the fact that the film received an overwhelmingly positive response, erased the voices of the progressive Jews in attendance, and even erased the fact that JVP  [Jewish Voice for Peace] was outside protesting alongside the right-wing extremist fringe, and instead proceeded to write a story entirely through the frame of those very same extremists.

But there was one ray of journalistic light. By far the best, and most fair, piece of reporting came from Leigh Blander of the Marblehead Reporter, who disrupted Lappin’s otherwise successful effort to make this about ‘area Jews’ (as in all area Jews) versus ‘the insensitive and maybe even anti-Semitic church organizers’ by reporting accurately on the Jews who were there who weren’t right-wing fanatics, supported the film, and actually believed we should be talking about Palestinian human rights.”

Editor’s note: this piece was updated after publication to include an expanded version of the emailed report from the filmmakers. 

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

21 Responses

  1. RoHa
    November 7, 2017, 7:37 pm

    “to far right groups including Honest Reporting, CAMERA and the Clarion Fund, the latter categorized as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center”

    Three groups are mentioned, so it should be “the last”, not “the latter”. And, while the Clarion Fund may indeed be an anti-Muslim hate group, I would suggest finding someone less dodgy than the SPLC to say so.

    • festus
      November 8, 2017, 1:05 pm

      The organization (The Clarion Fund) has been involved in the production and distribution of the films Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, The Third Jihad, Iranium and Honor Diaries.

      A little research would have removed any doubt about just what this “think tank” is all about.

      But we appreciate the grammar lesson.

      • RoHa
        November 8, 2017, 7:42 pm

        I agree. Pointing out those facts about the Clarion Fund would be more convincing than referring to the SPLC.

        I’m glad you appreciate the grammar lesson. There will be more.

      • festus
        November 9, 2017, 10:26 am

        Some simple research on your part would have allowed you to see that indeed the Clarion Group exists to smear Islam. But instead you choose to attack the source who called it an anti-Muslim hate group. Why?

      • RoHa
        November 9, 2017, 9:45 pm

        My major concern was not the activities of the Clarion Fund, but the wisdom of using the SPLC as a source.

        I have read a number of reports to the effect that the SPLC does not actually provide legal aid to the poor, but is a witch hunting organization rather like the Anti-Defamation League, though with a different set of witches to burn.

        Perhaps these reports are misleading, but until the SPLC is given a clean bill of health, I think it does not help the reputation of MW to use it as a source.

      • festus
        November 10, 2017, 11:08 am

        My major concern was not the activities of the Clarion Fund, but the wisdom of using the SPLC as a source.

        Why? Isn’t that secondary to the truth?

        I agree the SPLC is another ” witch hunting organization rather like the Anti-Defamation League.”

      • RoHa
        November 11, 2017, 8:25 pm

        Not every comment is about whether a claim is true or not. Mine was about supporting a claim. If Allison wants her readers to accept the idea that the Clarion Fund is an anti-Muslim hate group, it would be better for her to offer some other support than the SPLC.

  2. Jerry Hirsch
    November 7, 2017, 7:49 pm

    Allison, “The letter alleged the film is anti-Semitic because it uses an anti-Israel lens, backed up by a list of bullet points claims like: “Palestinian children are raised from childhood to hate Jews and Christians”—never mind a substantial minority of Palestinians are Christians.”

    The statistics I see put the percentage of Palestinian Christians in Israel and the West Bank at about 2‰. That is hardly a substantial minority.

    Pointing out the fact that Jewish Voice for Peace supported the film does not mean Jews in general also supported it. Visit their Facebook page and you will find the Jewish presence there about as strong as the Palestinian Christian presence in Israel /Palestine.

    • RoHa
      November 8, 2017, 12:57 am

      “Pointing out the fact that Jewish Voice for Peace supported the film does not mean Jews in general also supported it.”

      And if they don’t support it, that does not speak well of “Jews in General”.

    • Emory Riddle
      November 8, 2017, 8:14 am

      The statistics I see put the percentage of Palestinian Christians in Israel and the West Bank at about 2‰. That is hardly a substantial minority.

      About the same % of the American population that identifies as Jewish.

      Shall we dismiss them so blithely as you do Christians in Palestine?

    • Tony Greenstein
      November 8, 2017, 1:59 pm

      One reason that the number of Christian Palestinians has decline from around 10% in Palestine under the Mandate is because of the actions of Israel in ethnically cleansing Palestine. Its occupation has borne down particularly heavily on Bethlehem the capital of Christian Palestine, strangling its economy and surround the town on 3 sides with its hideously ugly wall. Palestinian Christians, who were often the traders and better off then Muslims have been driven out by the Occupation either to other countries in the Middle East or to Europe and the USA.

      In any case the lie that Palestinian children are raised from childhood to hate Jews and Christians is a lie. But I guess Christian Palestinians like so much about Palestine is invisible to settlers

  3. JosephA
    November 8, 2017, 12:29 am

    Free speech means free speech. The screening of this film is a win for America and a win for Jews. Obviously, it’s not a win for right wing (racist, colonialist) Israelis or their zealous, zionist supporters.

  4. RoHa
    November 8, 2017, 12:54 am

    As MHughes pointed out earlier, we do not have a good response to the constant cry of “anti-Semitism”. I will offer my own suggestion, in the hope that it can be improved upon.

    I would want to treat it dismissively, and with careless contempt.

    “Yes, yes. That’s what you always say.”

    “Sure. Trot that line out. It’s all you’ve got.”

    “Anti-Semitic? Isn’t everything?”

    Possible advantages:

    1. By refusing to treat it as important, you may help the audience to dismiss the rhetorical force of the cry.

    2. It makes it easier to keep the focus on the Palestinians rather than shifting it to the question of what counts as anti-Semitism.

    3. With a bit of luck, your attitude may infuriate your interlocutor to the point of apoplexy, or at least lead him to some words or acts of folly.

    Possible disadvantage:

    Your interlocutor then uses your attitude to brand you an “enabler” or apologist for anti-Semitism.

    Any advance on the above? I think we need something effective.

    • JosephA
      November 8, 2017, 9:26 am

      I once heard one of the talking heads on the radio say “as soon as you refer to a world leader or politician as worse than Hitler, you’ve pretty much ended the conversation with me, because that’s ridiculous.”

      I think a pretty similar, but shorter response (along the lines as you have suggested above) can and should effectively squash the silly, ridiculous, “criticism of Israel equals anti-Jewish hatred” B.S., which is all that it is, a way to shift the argument via non sequitor/ad-hominem attack.

    • Keith
      November 8, 2017, 10:35 am

      ROHA- “I would want to treat it dismissively, and with careless contempt.”

      That would certainly be an improvement, however, for the ongoing, aggressive labeling of anti-Semitism by someone such as Dershowitz, perhaps we should call it for what it truly is: anti-Gentilism. The very notion of eternal and irrational anti-Semitism posits Gentiles as inherently irrational and evil. This is a throwback to Classical (medieval) Judaism which Israel Shahak documents in his classic “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years.”

      • Sibiriak
        November 8, 2017, 1:19 pm

        Keith: perhaps we should call it for what it truly is: anti-Gentilism.
        ——————–

        While “anti-Gentilism” is no doubt accurate, I’m not sure it has the requisite rhetorical ring.

        I suggest the simple, established epithets “racism” and “racist”, however less precise they may be.

      • Keith
        November 8, 2017, 5:46 pm

        SIBIRIAK- “I suggest the simple, established epithets “racism” and “racist”, however less precise they may be.”

        No, I don’t think it is either accurate or effective to lump the attitude of Zionist Jews toward non-Jews into the category of racism. This is a non-racial ideological construct somewhat akin to Irish Protestants versus Irish Catholics. And while lineage plays a part, it is more akin to guild membership being passed down from father to son. And while the concept of race is itself somewhat of an ideological construct, it is difficult to imagine true racism without discernible physiological indicators. There is a reason German Jews were required to wear identifying arm bands but that early 20th century Southern white racists had no need for what would have superfluous identification of Blacks. Also, I think that class bias plays a significant role here. Remember, during the period of Classical (medieval) Judaism, the Jews were RELATIVELY better off than the Gentile peasants and performed administrative functions for the Gentile nobility, hence, tended to look down on the majority of Gentiles, and maintained tribal solidarity based upon an ideological hostility to the “ignorant” and “violent” Gentile peasants. In many ways, the attitude of Zionist Jews toward the majority of Gentiles is analogous to the attitude of imperial whites towards the Third World colored. And yes, there is an element of racism, but it is not racism per se. This is particularly the case insofar as Jews are not a race and non-Jews comprise many races, however defined.

      • Sibiriak
        November 8, 2017, 7:58 pm

        Keith: This is a non-racial ideological construct… ETC.

        ———————

        I don’t disagree with your analysis. I would just say:

        1) “Racism” has become to some extent a non-racial concept (cf. the U.N. definition of “racial discrimination”, the labeling of anti-Islamic attitudes as “racist” etc.)

        2) “Anti-Gentilism” lacks bite as an epithet, however accurate. “Anti-Gentilist” is even worse. I’d take “racism” and ” racist” –even if wrong– if my goal is vilification.

        YMMV

      • Keith
        November 9, 2017, 11:24 am

        SIBIRIAK- “YMMV”

        Huh?

        SIBIRIAK- “… if my goal is vilification.”

        My goal is understanding, not vilification. I don’t consider it vilification to point out that antipathy to non-Jews is a key component of Jewish Zionist ideology. And that this antipathy can be traced back to Classical (medieval) Judaism which, in turn, reflects the specialized economic function of Jews during medieval times. And that Zionism is a retrograde ideology which nonetheless provides a certain kinship advantage to Jews in a multicultural society such as the US. Besides, I simply view Dershowitz behavior as tribal/kinship, not racist. A quote for you from Yuri Slezkine who quotes Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog as follows:

        “A series of contrasts is set up in the mind of the shtetl child, who grows up to regard certain behavior as characteristic of Jews, and its opposite as characteristic of Gentiles. Among the Jews he expects to find emphasis on intellect, a sense of moderation, cherishing of spiritual values, cultivation of rational, goal-directed activities, a “beautiful” family life. Among gentiles he looks for the opposite of each item: emphasis on the body, excess, blind instinct, sexual license, and ruthless force. The first list is ticketed in his mind as Jewish, the second as goyish.” (P107, “The Jewish Century,” Yuri Slezkine)

        Slezkine notes that “Seen from the other side, the list is essentially the same, with the values reversed. Intelligence, moderation, learning, rationalism, and family devotion (along with entrepreneurial success) could be represented as cunning, cowardice, casuitry, unmanliness, clannishness, and greed….” (p107) He further notes that “These oppositions were informed by actual differences in economic roles and values; sanctified by communal traditions and prohibitions; …and reenacted daily, ritually, and sometimes consciously in personal encounters as well as prayers, jokes, and gestures.” (p108)

      • Mooser
        November 10, 2017, 11:14 am

        “A series of contrasts is set up in the mind of the shtetl child, who grows up to regard certain behavior as characteristic of Jews, and its opposite as characteristic of Gentiles.”

        Ah, if we could only go back to the well-ordered moral world of our collective childhood shtetl. All gone, swept away with the Bolshevik revolution. Who knows what comes next?

    • Mooser
      November 8, 2017, 12:41 pm

      ” I think we need something effective.”

      Here you go. Take your pick.

Leave a Reply