It is one thing to voice criticism of Israeli policy in Israel. All one has to do is read Haaretz on a regular basis and one will see many examples of this. But when Jews in America feature what is essentially Hamas propaganda as art, and show it at a yearly Jewish film festival, it is an altogether different thing. As writer Jamie Glazov asked: “Why is a Jewish film festival giving a platform to a documentary and to an individual that serve the cause of anti-Jewish hate?”
The latest example recently took place at San Francisco’s annual Jewish Film Festival, which featured a screening of the new anti-Israeli documentary, “Rachel,” a documentary that seems to be a film version of the three year old play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, and based on editing of the late activist’s diaries. The film was directed by Simone Bitton, and featured interviews with activists from The International Solidarity Movement that Corrie had joined. As with the play, The Forward correspondent wrote, “what really moved the story forward was the narration courtesy of Corrie’s idealistic and heartfelt journal entries and correspondence read by her fellow ISM activists.” To make it simple: the film reflects Corrie’s point of view, and was meant to depict her as a martyr to Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
The festival director asked Corrie’s mother to attend the screening, and to speak afterwards. Because of protests, the festival director brought in a pro-Israel speaker, Dr. Michael Harris, who was given a brief five minutes before the screening. Press reports indicate he could not be heard, and was booed continually. This kind of ploy is often done—a face-saving maneuver that hardly speaks to the issue, and is not sufficient to answer any of the falsehoods and slanders in the film.
No wonder the festival board’s president, Shana Penn, resigned from her office in protest at the screening. In her comments after the film was over, Corrie’s mother Cindy, whose point of view is the same as that of the filmmaker, only revealed the festival’s real intent—-to provide ammunition for Hamas and the opponents of Israel. As the pro-Israeli guest speaker Michael Harris noted after watching it, “Now that I’ve seen the film, I can certainly say it was appalling for its near complete lack of context.” Spoken words, he added, were hardly sufficient to counter “the power of images on the screen.” Even a left-wing Jew who watched the film named Rachel Masters, who is a member of the Tikkun community in Berkeley and the New Israel Fund, commented: “I never expected such an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere” from those in attendance.
The film has not as yet come to the East Coast, although most certainly it will. Since its theme is similar in content and purpose to the play that was based on Corrie’s diary entries, I am following this with an Open Letter I wrote during the summer of 2007, when the play came to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, along with a similar appearance by Corrie’s parents. The points I made in this letter are obviously as relevant to the film. Here is the letter, addressed to the producer of the production, Ed Herendeen, director of the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival: