‘Pure Jew Hatred’: Fury Erupts After Philadelphia-Area Film Institute Tries To Cancel Showing of Film About Israeli Musician

The film institute has apologized for handling ‘all of this very badly,’ but the instance is indicative of broader antisemitism targeting Israeli art, culture, and music since October 7.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Supporters of Israel stand outside the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Lori Lowenthal Marcus

A court had to order the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to uphold its contract to screen an Israeli film after it canceled the showing amid threats by pro-Palestinian protesters — the latest instance of even non-war-related Israeli culture being blocked in fear of political retaliation.

The Israeli Film Festival at Philadelphia — which has been operating for nearly 30 years — is under way this week and was set to screen a documentary about an Israeli musician, Yehuda Poliker, titled “The Child Within Me.” 

Palestinian activist groups in the city and student groups at nearby Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges protested the festival for “funding Israeli apartheid and genocide.” The college student groups, via their social media accounts, called on protesters to “take action” and picket the theater.

The pressure campaign initially appeared to work, as the film institute canceled the screening and issued a statement that it was “not a political organization” and that it was clear the documentary was being taken as “an endorsement of Israel’s recent and ongoing actions.” 

Yet as the cancellation was announced only a day before the movie was scheduled to be screened, a public interest law firm specializing in protecting the civil rights of Jews in education, the Deborah Project, filed an emergency petition arguing the film institute had “breached its contract.” The court ordered the theater to make itself available for the film showing, which took place on April 9.

“We were able to persuade the court that there literally was no other place where the film could be shown,” the president of the firm, Jerome Marcus, tells the Sun, as the musically centered movie needed a first-rate sound system, dozens of tickets had already been sold, and the festival could not be extended because Passover was approaching. Furthermore, the film “has nothing to do with what’s going on in Israel or Gaza or politics at all, it’s a film about a musician.”

Once the film institute canceled the screening, the protesters were “emboldened” to take it further, the Deborah Project’s legal director,  Lori Lowenthal Marcus, tells the Sun. 

They “threatened to protest and shut down the rest of the film festival, at the other theaters, and they also also crowed on social media that all the merchants in the area better be conscious of what’s going to happen to them if they also are not in line,” she says, adding that since the court order was issued the protesters have been “very quiet.” 

The attempted cancellation “outraged” many people, including longtime customers of the theater, she says. “This is not about where you are on the political spectrum regarding Israel,” Ms. Marcus adds. “This is just pure Jew hatred.” 

It also appears symptomatic of a much larger trend of even nonpolitical Jewish culture — including books, art, and music — being targeted as antisemitism festers. “This is happening all over the place,” Mr. Marcus says. “I do believe that the only way the Jewish people are going to defend themselves from this is by fighting back.” 

Until October 7, Mr. Marcus says there tended to be more “reluctance” among Jewish people to go to court. 

Now, “a great many of our clients are liberal Jews, progressive Jews, who are stunned to find themselves in a situation where they actually have to go to court and defend their rights,” he says. “It’s not something that Jews have done — historically in the United States, Jews have been very, very active in defending the civil rights of other people.”

Another trend the firm is tracking, especially at universities, is that anti-discrimination policies, though written neutrally, aren’t enforced that way, he says. 

Speech that is critical of, or threatening toward, minority groups tends to be “punished or investigated,” Mr. Marcus adds, but when the October 7 massacres are lauded as “heroic” resistance, it’s considered free speech. 

“So you have two different standards,” he says. “On the one hand, the full breadth of the First Amendment is deployed when we’re talking about criticism of Jews or Israel, but criticism of other groups is assessed under a different standard.”

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute did not immediately respond to a request from the Sun for comment. The institute’s executive director, Sam Scott, cited the anti-Israel protests as the reason for canceling, per CBS News

“We started to see on social media as we started to get closer to the date that there was going to be a demonstration,” he said. “The real issue was that it felt like this wasn’t the right time to be playing this film as part of the Israeli Film Festival right now.” 

The film institute issued an apology noting that the institute is “run by human beings.”

“Let’s be direct: we handled all of this very badly,” the institute wrote. “We are flawed and have blind spots. Sometimes we make bad calls. We understand that our actions have hurt and offended many. That was the opposite of our intention, and we apologize for disappointing so many members of our community.”

The New York Sun

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