Monthly Archives: July 2009

So this is what the controversy was about?

Now you can go to YouTube and hear for yourself the intro to Rachel’s movie by San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Peter Stein, the speech by S.F. Voice for Israel’s Michael Harris, and the Q&A with Cindy Corrie after the film. The video quality is not always good, but you get to hear it all (except for watching the movie itself!)

Michael Harris spoke before the movie. He spent quite some time giving a long list of people that were innocent victims of violence. He added: “Just as Rachel Corrie should be alive today, so should all these men and women.” Of course, we agree. But conspicuously absent from Harris’ long list were the Palestinians. Apparently not a single one of them is worth a mention, let alone compassion. This did not sit well with most of the audience.

As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb described it: “The fact that the vast majority of people in the crowd at the Castro Theatre would not let the Voice of Israel representative speak his mind without interruption reflects growing frustration with the use of pubic slander, character assassination, cancellation of speakers, firing of faculty and demand for resignations by the so-called defenders of Israel. Since when are people with views that differ from AIPAC, for instance, invited into mainstream circles to speak for five minutes before a pro-Israel speech or film? The representative of Voice of Israel was not there to dialogue. Only to chastise. The crowd refused to be chastised. When the impassioned proponent of Israel mentioned JVP and AFSC in order to condemn them as virulent anti-Semites, the crowd burst into cheers and applause to honor them instead.”

Cindy Corrie spoke after the film. Those who expected to find hatred in what she had to say were sadly disappointed. Cindy addressed not only the loss of her daughter, but about the grief of Palestinian parents in Gaza and Israeli parents whose children were the victims of suicide bombs. She and her husband met with both. This is what she observed: “We encountered many people, both Israelis and Palestinians and others who have had very personal losses, and the losses are all the same.”

When asked about the controversy surrounding her presence at the festival, she answered: ‘‘this has a lot less to do with me and with Rachel that it is with the discussion that is happening within the Jewish community.” Later she added, “I hope for the sake of all people in Israel and Palestine and for us here in the US that we can have the dialogue that needs to happen, but more than dialog, the action that needs to happen to bring an end to the trauma…”

It is an open question whether those who were opposed to the film are interested in dialog.

If you want to see the full thing in YouTube, here it is:
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Introduction (1 of 3)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Introduction (2 of 3)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Introduction (3 of 3)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Cindy Q&A (1 of 5)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Cindy Q&A (2 of 5)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Cindy Q&A (3 of 5)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Cindy Q&A (4 of 5)
SFJFF ’09: Rachel – Cindy Q&A (5 of 5)

- Sydney Levy

First-hand reports: Screening of controversial Rachel film at SF Jewish Film Festival

Muzzlewatch has been covering the San Francisco Film Festival brouhaha. Here are two accounts describing what happened on Saturday, when the movie Rachel was finally screened:

From JVP member Joel Frangquist:

When Peter Stein, director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, took the stage on Saturday to introduce the program for the film “Rachel”, it must have been one of his tougher moments. Stein later told me that getting through the program had “felt like landing a plane in a storm.” It should be noted that the Castro Theater was full, that Stein received a standing ovation, and that when he mentioned Jewish Voice for Peace and the AFSC, there was thunderous applause.

After having reviewed the controversy, and having asked us all to be respectful of the entire program, Stein was followed by Michael Harris of San Francisco Voice for Israel. Harris claimed that his presence could not balance the two hours which were to follow him. As if the “Rachel” program needed balancing within the context of a film festival presenting 37 films from or about Israel, including two about Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and Hezbollah. As if everyone in the audience didn’t know that Israelis have died in this conflict. As if the film “Rachel” was not going to include Israeli testimonies.

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FROM ONE RACHEL TO ANOTHER: an open letter to Rachel Corrie

Efforts to keep Cindy Corrie from speaking at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, ban the film Rachel altogether, and/or defund the festival, inspired filmmaker and peace activist Rachel Leah Jones to write this moving letter from Tel Aviv. Jones is friends with Rachel filmmaker SImone Bitton, and was planning to go to the West Bank the day Corrie was killed in Gaza. The appropriate intensity of Jones’ response reveals the profound chasm in the Jewish world. As though seeing for oneself what the occupation hath wrought, instead of reading the filtered fundraising letters of our childhoods from various Jewish groups, transports one into an entirely different parallel universe. As more and more of us make that journey- literally or metaphorically – the two worlds threaten to explode on contact.

Like the SF Jewish Film Festival, which has, ironically, been a model of integration and vision, understanding that our Jewish community is wide and broad and varied and strong enough to be just that.

It simply remains a fact: any just solution and lasting peace will absolutely require that we join these universes together.

Jones writes:

Date: Friday, July 24, 2009, 2:22 AM
 From one Rachel to another
 An open letter to Rachel Corrie as the screening of the film that bears her name, honors her life, and condemns her death faces shameless criticism and censorship
 Dear Rachel,
 The day you were crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, was a stormy day in Tel Aviv.
 March 16, 2003 — to be exact.
 I was seated at my computer editing a collection of reports by Amira Hass filed from Ramallah (reporting from ramallah). It was the first compilation of writings by this Jewish Israeli Ha’aretz journalist to be published since she left Gaza for the West Bank. Come afternoon, I was to head from Tel Aviv to Ramallah, where I intended to meet up with my friend and colleague, filmmaker Simone Bitton. Simone was working on a series of daily video diaries (Ramallah DailY). It was raining so hard, I wondered if I had it in me to schlep across Qalandia checkpoint. It never dawned upon me whether I had it in me to face a D9 house-demolishing bulldozer in Rafah.
 I went online to check the forecast, to see if the storm was going to let up, and I saw the newsflash announcing your crushing; anonymous, faceless, nameless. I remember the words American, peace-activist, female. I didn’t know yet that, like me, your name was Rachel. Nor did I know that you too were a “Greener.” I just knew that some folks in the states might mistakenly worry at first glance that the said woman was me. I dropped my mother a line to assure her I was fine. And off to Ramallah I went.
 Simone was in a production frenzy but I remember we exchanged a few words about it: “Did you hear?” “I heard.” Finally the rain subsided, and posters bearing your likeness sprang up like mushrooms. Ramallah was covered in them: a blond, blue-eyed, “girl-next-door,” sweatshirt-wearing martyr. People were deeply moved. Someone other than they, someone who “didn’t really have to,” had put their life on the line. And since we all know that in the deranged Western economy of imagined human worth one blond, blue-eyed, sweatshirt-wearing life is worth 100 if not 1,000 brown-haired, brown-eyed, not sweatshirt-wearing lives, your death was like a massacre.

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DailyKos bans writer for mocking settlements

What’s up with DailyKos? This isn’t the first time they’ve banned bloggers for writing about Israel and Palestine, but this surely is the dumbest case.  Guess that free trip to Israel really went to their heads.

Mondoweiss reports that Jane Stillwater got booted from DailyKos for making fun of, um, settlements.

Seriously. She made fun of illegal, immoral, ridiculously anti-peace, settlements, and US support for them as in:

“Our American government is currently financing and maintaining a fabulous all-comprehensive housing program that can provide you with modern newly-constructed state-of-the-art housing at either subsidized prices — or free!  And talk about location location location.  This wonderful model housing program isn’t located in undesirable places like the grungy old Boston inner city or shabby run-down parts of L.A.  And, unlike those tacky bankrupt schools in California and Mississippi, this place has outstanding schools too.  And its healthcare services, shopping centers and freeways are also top-of-the-line.

These fabulous new housing programs are located in a place that is sunny, modern, upscale and family-friendly — Israel!

According to USA Today, “Nefesh B’Nefesh, a non-profit organization, provides grants of $3,000 to $10,000 as an incentive for Jews to move [to Israel].  Nefesh B’Nefesh, which means ‘Soul to Soul,’ also helps arrange housing, jobs and schools for immigrants’ children.”

Read my less tongue-in-cheek op-ed here about the real horror of settlements, which, in fact, are made possible through US support.

Shame on DailyKos.

-Cecilie Surasky

Continuing insanity: Koret Foundation up in arms about Cindy Corrie, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Quakers

Jewish Voice for Peace, the sponsor of Muzzlewatch, has about 85,000 supporters; an advisory board that includes some of the best known Jewish thinkers and artists in the world; a program staff and board that is 100% Jewish; members who are rabbis, Holocaust survivors, Jewish educators, yeshiva graduates, Israeli military veterans and more; and an incoming director who has just spent the last three years living in Israel with her family.

And we’re dedicated to justice and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.

But none of that, apparently, qualifies Jewish Voice for Peace to be part of the Jewish community as defined by….funders! In fact, the experts at the Koret Foundation have determined that we are, yes, here it comes, you never heard this one before………. “anti-Semites!” How cliche! How funny! How completely unoriginal! (OK, to be fair, that’s not exactly what they called us. What they actually said was “virulently anti-Semitic.” )

In more of the continuing insanity – and that’s the only way to put it – about the showing of the film Rachel (Corrie), the Koret Foundation, major funders of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, seems to have plagiarized a far-right viral email and turned it into an official, um, “attack-statement.”

(As Muzzlewatch and also JJ Goldberg, former Forward editor has observed, it is conservative funders in the donation-dependent Jewish institutional world who increasingly wield power to define Jewish identity and community moral standards. The economic crisis seems to be fueling this phenomenon. Another theory is that the increasing crackdown on  dissent in Israel is now spreading here – something out of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s playbook? After all, the festival has featured anti-occupation films for years. JVP has sponsored many of them. Nary a peep about that, until this year. Why?)

The Koret Foundation is worth something like $400 million. They give to a lot of great programs as well as significant amounts to the right-or-wrong-Israel-advocacy programs.  Their CEO is Tad Taube, so for all intents and purposes, the statement below is from the same person.

(And to just add just more delicious irony, two key staffers of the AFSC’s Middle East program here in San Francisco are Jewish, including Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb. Apparently they’ve been excommunicated by the Koret Foundation as well. Well, everyone knows how mean pacifist Quakers are. Mean! Especially the Jews who work with them!)

Statement from the Koret and Taube Foundations:

As staunch champions and allies of Israel, the Koret and Taube Foundations do not support any organization that promotes or provokes anti-Israel sentiment; nor do we provide funding to any organization whose mission runs counter to our position. In this instance, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has made three egregious errors in its upcoming presentation of the film, “Rachel”:

  • It is partnering with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Both are closely associated with the International Solidarity Movement and other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish State. These groups cross the line for inclusion in the Jewish community. Continue reading

Jewish world to queer Jews: gay is great! Caring about Palestinians is forbidden!

Earlier this summer, Israel launched what can best be described as a queer-washing campaign to promote its more tolerant approach to gay rights over the anti-gay, mean, evil, Iranians and Palestinians. Israel’s right-wing supporters may hate Palestinians but this summer, they just LOVE THE GAYS! It’s one of the more cynical uses of liberal and progressive issues as both distraction and wedge.

Whether the organizers were aware of being used or not, it’s likely that the push for a strong Jewish LGBT presence at this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride parade was part of this initiative. Hence the multitude of Israeli flags in the contingent – the Israeli Consulate was all over it.

A group of queer Jews, most of whom work or worship inside the Jewish community, decided to join the contingent but with their own signs which read “Pride in Israel when Palestine is Free ” and “Feygele for Free Palestine.” They had a rude awakening after the parade, learning that while gay may be great in the mainstream Jewish world,  Jews-who-acknowledge-Palestinians-as-humans are expected to stay in the closet.

They write in JVoices:

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.”

Not surprising. However, they were allowed to march in the parade (Yay!) Here’s the boo part:

“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. Those 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.”

I know at least one of these stories and it’s a real whopper. If and as soon as they decide to make it public, we’ll let you know. Suffice it to say, the battle within the Jewish institutional world over the ability to simply think for oneself in terms of Israel and Palestinians is at times medieval. Join their Facebook group here .

- Cecilie Surasky

More controversy about Rachel Corrie’s mother at San Francisco’s Jewish Film Fest

There’s something so deeply, deeply depressing about the attack against Cindy Corrie by J Weekly, the Bay Area’s Jewish newspaper. True, it’s just one of countless examples of the moral malaise that plagues the institutional Jewish world when it comes to Palestinians, but on this day, this day when I am fresh back from Gaza, from Hebron, from Silwan, it has gotten to me.

I’m not sure which is worse- the possibility that the J’s editorial writer actually believes the morally groundless drivel he or she is writing? Or the possibility that they know full well that the moral outrage that is the Israeli treatment of Gazans is an affront to all Jews and feeling people, but that they care more about keeping advertisers happy.

While acknowledging the right of the SF Jewish Film Festival to air the film Rachel, a documentary made by Jewish-Israeli filmaker Simone Bitto , the Bay Area’s Jewish magazine has condemned in an editorial the decision to invite Cindy Corrie. Cindy is the mother of  the subject of the film, Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer while protesting home demolitions in Gaza.

As a grieving mother, Cindy Corrie has our sympathies. No parent should ever have to bury a child. But as an echo chamber of her daughter’s repulsive opinions, this woman has no business attending and speaking at a Jewish event like the film festival.

We are all for free speech. We are all for scheduling controversial films. But Cindy Corrie’s appearance crosses a line. The Jewish Film Festival is under no obligation to offer a microphone to Israel-bashers.

Israel-bashers? Repulsive opinions? For free speech? Oh to have just one hour to take the J editors to Gaza to see for themselves that which the Corries have so rightfully denounced. I just returned from there, and yet again, I have never been so confronted with the fact of meaningless, cruel and vindictive suffering. This has nothing to do with Israel-bashing. In fact, if you care about Israel, and only Israel, you still will come down on the side of the Corries, for it’s nearly impossible to see a decent future for Israelis if the country continues to harm and radicalize Gazans through illegal blockades and incursions and war.

Rabbi Brian Walt has clearly been to Gaza. He knows Cindy Corrie (As do I, and I agree with every single word he says about her). He gets it:

In my position as Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America,  I have worked with Cindy and Craig, Rachel Corrie’s parents.  They are extraordinary human beings who generously support the work of Rabbis for Human Rights and other Israeli human rights and peace groups. They have visited with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the Executive Director of RHR in Israel, and others in the RHR office in Jerusalem and have consistently supported our work.  I have been moved in my conversations with them, by their integrity and their deep commitment to a just peace.  If I were in their situation,  I would imagine that the temptation to hate  those who killed my daughter would be hard to resist.  (Forman points out that the details of Rashel’s death are disputed.  He doesn’t mention that it was Israel’s refusal to agree to an impartial investigation that prevented us from knowing the truth.  In a very similar action,  Israel recently refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission into the Gaza war, even though Judge Goldstone is a committed Jew and made it clear that he would be investigating violations by both sides.)  Despite their daughter’s tragic death, the Corries have never spoken in a hateful  way towards Israel or Jews.  On the contrary, they are deeply committed to peace and to the security of all people in the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama team should pressure Israel on illegal settlements, a beginner’s guide

Just got back from Israel-Palestine. From the Oakland Tribune:

Obama team should pressure Israel on settlements

CECILIE SURASKY, July 17, 2009

FEW AMERICANS HAVE had the opportunity to see firsthand, as I did in early July, the devastating impact of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and why it’s critical that we support President Barack Obama’s call for a settlement freeze.

Settlements are the capstone in a system that gives Jewish people like me privileges and rights at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population. Settlements, and the infrastructure of population separation, land appropriation, lawless violence and ethnic discrimination that supports them, are at the core of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Settlement expansion is made possible by some $3 billion in military aid the U.S. gives to Israel each year, and additional millions in subsidies provided by U.S.-based Jewish and fundamentalist Christian nonprofits.

That is why Obama has called first for the freeze of settlement expansion, to be followed, presumably, by negotiations to dismantle them and either swap or return this conquered and stolen land.

What exactly are these settlements, where nearly 500,000 Jewish people now live?

They are communities created on land taken by force in 1967 and held and developed only through the extensive use of military power. Served by Israeli state-provided electricity, water, sewage and road construction, settlements are illegal under international law (the 4th Geneva Conventions prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population onto occupied lands).

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SF Jewish Film Festival: “Our Role is to Catalyze Conversation”

Amanda Pazornik of J. Weekly reports on the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s controversial decision to go forward and present Rachel, a documentary made by Jewish-Israeli filmaker Simone Bitton about the death of Rachel Corrie by an IDF bulldozer while she was protesting home demolitions in Gaza. Both Rabbi Doug Kahn, the head of the San Francisco Community Relations Council, and Israel Consul General Akiva Tor were particularly incensed about the decision to invite Corrie’s mother, Cindy Corrie, to speak at the July 25 screening.

(Interestingly, Cindy Corrie, who has been a tireless crusader for peace and reconciliation since her daughter’s death, was recently vigorously defended against attack by a colleague in this remarkable piece by Rabbi Brian Walt, the former head of Rabbis for Human Rights, North America.)

The festival’s executive director, Peter Stein, tells J:

“I know there are many members of the community who would prefer if the festival stayed away from programming films on difficult topics or topics of passionate division of opinion. That being said, if we, as an arts organization, are going to remain relevant in our time, it really is part of our role to catalyze conversation, however uncomfortable it may be.”

One Israel activist complained:

“Corrie has become a hero of anti-Israel extremists. Her story is not really about a young American activist who died of complex circumstances. It’s about promoting a hate-filled and glaringly one-sided anti-Israel agenda.”

Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice, one of the sponsors of the film, added, “Cindy Corrie is a rare person who can speak clearly about the injustices of what her daughter saw and worked to address, without fueling one ounce of hatred. She sees this is a basic, human justice issue, not a Jewish versus Palestinian issue. Jews are among the Corries’ greatest supporters, and I find it sad to think that some believe the Jewish community is so weak that we cannot even have these important conversations. “

Simone Bitton’s previous documentaries have focused on the separation wall in the West Bank and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

A full schedule of the film festival can be seen here.

That commenter on your blog may actually be working for the Israeli government

Straight out of Avigdor Lieberman’s Foreign Ministry: a new Internet Fighting Team! Israeli students and demobilized soldiers get paid to pretend they are just regular folks and leave pro-Israel comments on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites. The effort is meant to fight the “well-oiled machine” of “pro-Palestinian websites, with huge budgets… with content from the Hamas news agency.” The approach was test-marketed during Israel’s assault on Gaza, and by groups like Give Israel Your United Support, a controversial effort to use instant-access technology to crowd-source Israel advocates to fill in flash polls or vote up key articles on social networking sites.

Will the responders who are hired for this also present themselves as “ordinary net-surfers”?

“Of course,” says Shturman. “Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the policy-explanation department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis. They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the Foreign Ministry developed.”

The full article, translated by Occupation Magazine into English here:

The Foreign Ministry presents: talkbackers in the service of the State
By: Dora Kishinevski
Calcalist 5 July 2009

Translated for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

After they became an inseparable part of the service provided by public-relations companies and advertising agencies, paid Internet talkbackers are being mobilized in the service in the service of the State. The Foreign Ministry is in the process of setting up a team of students and demobilized soldiers who will work around the clock writing pro-Israeli responses on Internet websites all over the world, and on services like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The Foreign Ministry’s department for the explanation of Israeli policy* is running the project, and it will be an integral part of it. The project is described in the government budget for 2009 as the “Internet fighting team” – a name that was given to it in order to distinguish it from the existing policy-explanation team, among other reasons, so that it can receive a separate budget. Even though the budget’s size has not yet been disclosed to the public, sources in the Foreign Ministry have told Calcalist that in will be about NIS 600.000 in its first year, and it will be increased in the future. From the primary budget, about NIS 200.000 will be invested in round-the-clock activity at the micro-blogging website Twitter, which was recently featured in the headlines for the services it provided to demonstrators during the recent disturbances in Iran.

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