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October 24, 2019 7:13 am

In Rochester and Elsewhere, Jewish Organizations Must Forcefully Fight Anti-Zionists

avatar by Melissa Landa


A BDS protest in front of Carnegie Hall. Photo: Liberate Art.

The “Witness Palestine Film Festival” in Rochester, New York, is now celebrating its eighth year. In past years, the event lasted for one week and included three films. This year, the festival is much more elaborate, lasting for almost four weeks, and including five films, five panel discussions, and a culminating event with Palestinian food and a keynote speaker.

The selected films include The Lobby, Firefighters Under Occupation, The Great Book Robbery: Chronicles of a Cultural Destruction, and 1948: Creation and Catastrophe, which are all wrought with antisemitic imagery, portraying Jews as liars, oppressors, thieves, and colonizers.

Based on the success of its film festival, it seems that the festival organizer — Christians Witnessing for Palestine (CW4P) — is a well-funded, well-organized, and well-connected group. It also appears that over the past eight years, CW4P has faced no effective deterrence to its promulgation of anti-Israel propaganda.

Determined to change that fact, my Alliance for Israel colleagues and I made several attempts to engage the film festival’s various stakeholders and express our concern at their selection of films.

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Given that most of the films are being shown at the Little Theatre in downtown Rochester, we spoke to the theater’s management, who explained that they had rented the space to the festival organizers and that they had signed a contract, which they could not break.

We contacted the Downtown Presbyterian Church, which CW4P lists as its fiscal sponsor, but the reverend stated that he was not aware of the content of the films and was in no position to influence the festival in any way.

Unable to locate any contact information for CW4P itself, we then used an online form to send respectful messages to the festival organizers. Our messages expressed concern about their selection of films that demonize Israel and included suggestions of other films that offered a more balanced view.

For example, rather than showing Firefighters Under Occupation, which accuses Israel of impeding the efforts of Palestinian firefighters, we suggested the film Fire Lines, which chronicles the cooperation and collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian firefighters during the 2010 fire on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

We received no response.

Given the fact that the festival is in its eighth year and that some of the films were shown in past years, it is unlikely that the owners of the Little Theatre are unaware of the propagandist nature of the films. It is also highly unlikely that a religious institution would agree to act as a fiscal sponsor for an organization without being aware of its mission.

Furthermore, CW4P makes no effort to hide its contempt for Israel on social media, where it expresses traditional antisemitic tropes like blood libels and global conspiracies. A quick glance at its Facebook page, for example, exposes articles that accuse Israel of apartheid, “ethnic supremacy,” deliberately maiming Palestinians, and controlling American politics. There, “Christians Witnessing for Palestine” also articulates its support and alignment with the pro-BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace.

Amid all this, the Rochester Jewish community has largely remained silent. Some may not know about the film festival. Others believe that protesting such events inadvertently generates unwanted attention.

And yet it is precisely the absence of immediate and unequivocal objection to anti-Israel propaganda that has paved the way for the BDS movement to poison the minds of so many well-meaning Americans with such ease. The Jewish community’s silence has allowed this to happen, whether intentionally or not.

If Jewish organizations knowingly do not issue a response when the integrity of their community is being attacked, community members should organize themselves. Using grassroots efforts, they should publicly protest attacks on their identities as Jews and Zionists. When they do, they will educate participants about the offensive nature of the events, bring well deserved negative attention to the organizers and contributors, and generate a sorely needed feeling of pride and sense of collective responsibility.

Melissa Landa PhD has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.

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