Drawing Lessons from the Festival

The J just published a candid op-ed by Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan that attempts to bring the Jewish community in the Bay Area together — to heal the wounds — caused by the controversy surrounding the San Francisco Film Festival’s screening of the movie Rachel.

Here at home in the Bay Area, we, too, are throwing stones at each other.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival showed the movie “Rachel,” co-presented by Jewish Voice for Peace. Before and after the showing, I saw copies of letters from Jewish community funders accusing Peter Stein, the festival’s executive director, of horrible things, including, but not limited to, equating him with Holocaust deniers.

I have seen e-mails calling for the banishment of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival from community funding.

I have heard Jews who question house demolitions by Israel (not including the “Rachel” story) called names and ridiculed. And those who support the current Israeli government castigated as neo-colonialist.

I have heard supporters of AIPAC set against supporters of J Street, and back again.

I have seen e-mails from self-appointed protectors of Israel assaulting Hillel professionals as “haters of Israel” for allowing Jewish students on college campuses to voice a spectrum of opinions.

I have seen the placards carried by Jews equating Israel with Germany.

The issue is not the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The problem is what the showing of “Rachel” revealed. Before, during and after the festival, we have been throwing stones at each other.

One line bears repeating:

I have been with rabbis who are compelled to meet in secret to express their concerns over Israeli human rights violations, afraid to speak in public for fear of their jobs.

Kudos to Rabbi Peretz for being able to say publicly what we ourselves have been seeing in private. This item should give anyone pause. Rabbis, who are supposed to be spiritual leaders of our community, are afraid to talk about human rights because they might lose their jobs. What’s wrong with this picture?

This is not the first time that these ‘employment concerns’ for people working inside Jewish institutions come to the surface. Exactly a month ago, we reported on an incident that followed the San Francisco LGBT parade. Some Jews had the audacity to march in the parade with signs reading ‘No Pride in Occupation,’ copying the slogan from an Israeli queer group, “Black Laundry.” This is how they describe their employment experience:

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.

There’s more in Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan’s op-ed. It is worth reading in its entirety. The call for civility–and may I add, safety–when we talk about Israel and Palestine could not have come early enough. The main lesson from the call, maybe the main lesson from the Film Festival controversy as a whole, is that no longer can anyone sweep concerns about the Israeli occupation under the rug. The issue is not whether to talk about this, but how to do it with respect. That’s progress.

Of course, the op-ed piece reveals much by what it says as by what it omits: Conspicuously, the long litany of ‘stone throwing’ around the Film Festival makes no mention of the large boulder that week: the Koret and Taube Foundations’ ridiculous accusations against Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee.

We are making progress, but we still have work to do.

-Sydney Levy