So here is a story that may make you shudder–one that has been relayed to me by three individuals, all confirming the validity of the following details.
This past Saturday night, thirty five year old Jacob Kimchy (full disclosure: a friend, and Algemeiner blogger) and his new bride Alecia attended a viewing of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea at the Other Israel Film Festival hosted by the Manhattan Jewish Community Center in New York’s Upper West Side. The film about an “email friendship between Israeli and Palestinian youths,” was described by Variety as “An Internet-age Romeo & Juliet tale in which the tragedy is more political than personal.” According to fashion executive and former editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine, Steven Elihu, who was in the audience as well, the film represents the Arab narrative 65-70% of the time, and the Israeli side for 30-35% of the film’s duration.
Following the viewing, the event moderator Isaac Zablocki, executive director of The Film Festival and program director of the Israel Film Center of the JCC, introduced a Swedish journalist named Caterin Ormestad as a Gaza expert who was supposed to engage in a question and answer session with the audience of about 200.
Ormestad opened by saying that she was impressed that so many people had showed up because, if the event would have been in Tel Aviv, no one would have come because Israelis don’t care about Gaza. (Whilst this quote is not exact, it has been corroborated by several people as the intent of her message.) Throughout the course of her talk she referred to an “Israeli occupation of Gaza,” and blamed Israel for a supposed lack of pencils in Gaza schools.
About two minutes into her presentation, Jacob stood up to interject. He described what happened next in a Facebook post written in Hebrew the following day, with others confirming its accuracy. The translation is from Google with my edits:
“I opened by asking how it could be that on a Saturday night at a Jewish Center in Manhattan, a Swedish girl is welcomed to bad-mouth Israel. I added that Israel helps many people from Gaza and no other country would tolerate a massive assault like the one from Gaza which fires missiles at civilians (in Israel) almost every day. I added that Israel protects the same people who took to the streets with flowers and candy after the 9/11 terror attacks and who send their children to explode in the name of Allah. Oh yeah, I also added that my father was killed by people with this ideology. My words created quite a stir in the room. A number of people supported me and some asked me to stop. Immediately security guards approached me and asked that I leave the room.”
Kimchy, whose father was killed in the May 7, 2002, suicide bombing at the Sheffield Club in Rishon LeZion, resisted the efforts of the security personnel to forcibly remove him from the room and left of his own accord shortly afterwards. In the ensuing discussion, others that interrupted were not ejected from the auditorium.
In a subsequent email exchange with Jacob’s wife Alecia, the Manhattan Jewish Community Center’s Executive Director Joy Levitt justified the incident in the following terms:
“We have shown hundreds of films and welcomed thousands of people from many countries and backgrounds to the JCC for this signature event. While much divides our audiences, what unites them is their strong views and passionate opinions about the issues that are portrayed on the screen.
To bring such passion together requires that we hear one another’s opinions, however strongly we may object to them. By your own admission, your husband was unwilling to let the speaker finish her talk. I appreciate how hard it is to listen to opinions with which we disagree; nevertheless it is a fundamental position of this festival.”
But here is the point. Surely it is one thing to allow for the presentation of variant opinions, and quite another to provide a platform for the libeling of the Jewish state at a Jewish community center financially supported by Jewish donors.
Ormestad’s words at the JCC were accusatory towards Israelis and were factually incorrect. She also comes with a significant history of anti-Israel activism and was a columnist for Aftonbladet, Sweden’s notoriously anti-Israel newspaper, which published the infamous 2009 story accusing IDF soldiers of trafficking in the body parts of Palestinians.
Accompanying her that night was fellow Other Israel Film Festival presenter Mohammed Bakri, whose 2002 film Jenin, Jenin promotes the myth that Israeli soldiers perpetrated a massacre in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield. According to Israeli Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner the “film includes lies.”
Also escorting Ormestad was Haaretz Journalist Gidon Levy whose recent sham of an article falsely entitled “Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel,” was later withdrawn amidst great embarrassment and apology. Even former Haaretz editor Hanoch Marmari blasted his lack of journalistic integrity.
Other panelists and presenters at the OIFF represent organizations that have peddled similar false accusations against Israel, and the JCC’s embrace of anti-Israel activists has been well documented by others before me.
Differing opinions aside, it is shocking to me that a Jewish organization that is responsible for Jewish communal funds is providing a platform to those that have initiated, and continue to perpetuate, modern blood libels against the collective Jew, the state of Israel. It is these accusations that serve as fuel to the raging fire of global anti-Jewish hatred, and swell the ranks of terror organizations around the world.
This is not about politics, this is about humanity. It is not about opinions, it is about facts. Every current and future donor to this sorry institution carries his or her support of its activity as a badge of shame.