Monday, July 27, 2009


So a San Francisco Jewish Film Festival wanted to screen a copy of the documentary Rachel, about the life and death of International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie. Which was fine. But they also wanted to Corrie's mother, who runs the Rachel Corrie Foundation in continuation of her daughter's politics regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to speak at the event. And some members of the local Jewish community were upset at this. Which was in turn condemned as muzzling and "Jews censoring Jews". The latter charge seems to be false, as the documentary (directed by a French-Israeli Jew) was never contested, and the Corries are not Jewish. So it really was "Jews censoring non-Jews", or perhaps, a teensy-bit less inflaming, "Jews determining the contours of the discussion in their own communities." As Matt puts it:
Although Jewish Voice for Peace, which runs Muzzlewatch, claims to take antisemitism seriously, the truth is, they only sometimes do. (They did, however, stop allowing comments when they were attracting a great deal of antisemitism they couldn't ignore. They do not seem to have considered how they contributed to that.) They don't consider, for instance, that concerns about antisemitism genuinely ought to limit the scope of debate in a great many ways in order to ensure that discussion is less hurtful and more productive. Or, rather, they claim the sole right to determine when the discussion is hurtful or productive. For them, other Jews do not have a right to say "I find that antisemitic." To do so would be "muzzling."

He then notes the long pedigree of the "muzzling" charge as a tool in the hands of anti-Semites to attack the Jewish community and insure our pliancy to external agendas.

In any event, Corrie showed up, the film was shown, and a crowd filled with IJAN activists booed and shouted down any pro-Israel opinions expressed. So I guess everything worked out for the best.

As for Corrie herself, Matt has this to say:
Upfront: every time I've come across the name Rachel Corrie, it's been about how evil I, personally, am. It's never been part of a real discussion of Israeli policy. Instead, I've been called to denounce Jews who support Israel's existence (for very good and real reasons I share) as evil and racist. Often enough, with the suggestion that I'm to blame for antisemitism because I won't. (And there's something, frankly, creepy about the way in which Palestinian supporters use Corrie's whiteness.) So, every time her name comes up, I have a Pavlovian reaction of ducking my head as if I were about to be hit. I find it threatening. And silencing, as well as simply not productive.

I wouldn't say my response is quite that visceral, but the associations I have aren't positive. The first time I went onto the foundation's website, it had a "resources" section on Jews (since, apparently, taken down -- or at least I can't find it anymore) divided into two portions.

The first, which I think was compiled by the foundation staffers, had Jews laying out anti-Zionist positions. Which is fine, as far as it goes -- Jews have the right to stake out minority positions. But I always get annoyed when such positions are represented as that of "Jews", because (as even the authors would likely recognize), their views are not representative. Dialoguing with the Jewish community means talking with all of us, not the pre-selected preferred slice of it. Whenever I see folks arguing in this vein -- hyper-promoting a tiny fringe of the Jewish community as being the authentic ones, I see folks uninterested in actual communication.

The second section, though, which I think was filled in automatically by Amazon, was comprised of viciously anti-Semitic hate propaganda -- "How Jews Control the World" type titles. I can't link, because as I said the entire page seems to have been taken off the website -- a decision for which I credit the foundation. But that was my first experience with them as a group. And even now, their materials indicate they have an alignment on the conflict that is not, in my view, particularly productive. No mention of One Voice; haughty dismissal of Israel's right to exist as a legitimate issue of concern ("a canard to avoid bilateral negotiations"). It isn't interested in facilitating understanding -- it assumes it already understands all there is to know, and all that is left is application. It is a mistake I've made -- everybody's made -- but it doesn't make it any less of a mistake.

There are, of course, members of the left-leaning Jewish community who are sympathetic to the Corrie's, such as this leader of "Rabbis for Human Rights". They also have their detractors, such as this leader of "Rabbis for Human Rights". Even the left is split -- the rest of the community, I know, finds them to be unrelentingly hostile. Which goes back to Matt's point. All communities have the right to police their conversations (I mean this socially, not governmentally) to determine what is productive and what is not. This is a right that must be exercised very judiciously applied internal to the community (which is why this Jewish filmmaker's movie rightfully was screened). There is considerably more leeway when talking about non-Jews like Ms. Corrie. I am extremely skeptical that her presence improves the quality of our internal dialogue or pushes the community towards peace.


PG said...

Somewhat OT, but I'd like your take on Aluf Benn's assertion regarding how the Holocaust is seen among American vs. Israeli Jews (not asking you to Speak For The Jews, just inquiring because you're the most thoughtful and well-informed person I know on the subject):

"Third, Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle —- not guilt over the Holocaust —- brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama's speech, which linked Israel's existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad."

I admit that I'm pretty well bought into the narrative of oppression of Jews as a particular moral reason for non-Jews to support the existence of a Jewish homeland (as opposed to shrugging at it as a matter of "If they can keep it, let them keep it; if they cannot, let it disappear"). I had not been aware that Israelis themselves dislike it. I guess I don't understand then why they think the U.S. should support Israel more than it supports any other democracy (e.g. India) unless there's a special moral imperative that applies to Israel but not to other countries. If they agree there is a special moral imperative, what would that imperative be other than the fact that centuries of pogroms and holocausts have demonstrated that Jews cannot count on being safe as a minority anywhere on earth, and therefore need a country where they are assured majority status and can offer safe harbor to Jews still suffering persecution?

Rebecca said...

I think that Aluf Benn speaks for himself and some of the Israeli center-left. From my experience with Israelis, I think many of them do feel that Israel deserves to exist as a haven for the Jewish people from existing or future persecution. I don't know if people link Israel's existence with guilt over the Holocaust - I haven't heard that here. (I'm in Israel this summer). Certainly, members of this and past Israeli governments have spoken about how Israel is the answer to Nazism and is necessary for that reason (and not only members of Likud).

Rebecca said...

Oh, and P.S. I don't see why a Jewish film festival should find it necessary to screen any given film on a Jewish topic. There are a lot of Jewish films out there. I personally would not include the Rachel Corrie movie, because I have a very low opinion of the International Solidarity Movement (which she was working for). I suspect the Jewish film festival in San Francisco wanted to screen the film because of the existence of anti-Israel Jewish groups in the Bay Area who might want to see it.