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.