This past Monday evening a diverse group of over 100 students at HLS were provoked, entertained, and challenged to take a hard look at who they are by a film entitled Not in My Name. The film, which has been dubbed a “cry from the middle,” explores the way in which the Jewish left in North America views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The screening was conducted by Igal Hecht, the film’s director, who held a question and answer session after the screening. The event was co-sponsored by HLS Alliance for Israel and JLSA.
Professor Alan Dershowitz made a brief appearance from his spring semester sabbatical to introduce the film. He began his remarks by telling the audience about his recent trip to Israel and meetings he had there with key members of the government and candidates from different political parties. Professor Dershowitz claimed that the consensus in Israel is clearly moving to the center, with the majority of the public supporting a two state solution, Israeli withdrawal from the majority of the Palestinian population centers, no right of return, and the building of a strong barrier between the two states. At the same time, Dershowitz said that the Palestinian consensus is moving towards a Hamas-style government and away from any peaceful resolution. He pointed to the zealous overreaction to the publication of cartoons which “pale in comparison to what is turned out on a daily basis by the state controlled media in Egypt and Jordan.” Dershowitz decried the difficulty of making peace with people that believe it is acceptable to kill in response to a verbal offence. Yet, Dershowitz argued, the academic community refuses to recognize this and continues to criticize Israel.
Professor Dershowitz asserted that the debate on campuses is awful, dominated by shouting and extremism. “Thank god we have to make peace with Hamas rather than with the academic left,” said Professor Dershowitz, “It’s easier to make peace with Hamas than with Chomsky and Finkelstein, and the Columbia and Berkeley faculty.” Professor Dershowitz told the crowd that he had not seen the film yet, although he is featured prominently in it. Dershowitz called for an end to the demonization on both sides, saying “let debate go forward as a nuanced debate, as an academic debate, and not as a demonization.”
The movie is filled with scenes of graphic carnage in the aftermath of suicide bomb attacks on Israeli citizens. These scenes are interspersed with interviews of various individuals conducted mostly in Toronto, Vancouver, the West Bank, and New York. Keeping with the aim of the documentary, the vast majority of the interviews are with people who are on the left. The director was contending that the North American Jewish left was hijacked by people who are advocating positions that are almost identical, and in some cases exactly identical, to the positions of racially motivated anti-Semites.
The movie showed that the most vocal people in this debate are not the people who are approaching this issue in a calm and rational matter. The “sidewalk preacher” reigns supreme in this film, and a lot of the footage can best be described as shouting matches between people on a street corner surrounded by five other people. A number of the conversations that are “overheard” seem forced, as if they were staged for the film. The subjects of the film seem desperate to engage in clichéd Jewish behavior, in a way that ties in to their constant obsession with the Jewish occupation of Palestine. A recitation of the “10 plagues of Jewish occupation of Palestine” at a “progressive Seder” highlighted this phenomenon, demonstrating how the participants were so tied to a Jewish identity that they felt had let them down.
This scene was immediately followed by video of a suicide bombing at the Park hotel in Netanyahu which killed 30 people who were celebrating the Passover Seder, a sharp contrast to the naive comfort within which the Canadian leftists protested the Israeli actions. Another scene in the movie, where a Canadian anti-war protestor in the safe haven of a group protest in Canada accuses the soldiers of being “cowards” because they have guns, seemed to make the same point.
Professor Dershowitz appears frequently in the film, representing the position of the moderate left. Oftentimes footage of his speeches are interspersed with those of Norman Finkelstein to create a virtual dialogue between the two of them. Following a clip of Professor Dershowitz decrying Finkelstein as liar, Finkelstein claims that Professor Dershowitz called ethnic cleansing a form of urban renewal in his book Chutzpah. When the filmmaker asks him where that was in the book, he takes the book off his shelf, leafs through it for a few moments then sheepishly returns it to the shelf and changes the conversation. This provided one of the only moments of comic relief for the audience. Professor Dershowitz then appears and explains that he offered Finkelstein a deal: “If you stop lying about me, I will stop telling the truth about you.”
Throughout the film, the subjects of the interviews are apologetic about why they have never been to Israel or, in the rare case of someone who was there, why they are now here. The recurring theme was one of Jews, who oftentimes had little first hand experience of the situation, espousing viewpoints that aligned them with those who are arguably proponents of anti-Semitic viewpoint. This was all done from the safety of their comfortable home in the Diaspora.
One may argue that the film was long and that it began to feel repetitious towards the end. However, one may also point out that the directors did an effective job with the material, and it is doubtful that anyone was not affected by the footage in one way or another. The film has been making the rounds of Jewish film festivals in an attempt to stir up debate over the political views of the Jewish left. Igal Hecht told the audience after the film that he has just finished filming footage for a part two which will deal with the way in which the right views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That film should be released in approximately one year.