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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 17, 2009 PAGE 19A Film festival under fire for scheduling 'Rachel,' inviti[Lg mom By Amanda Pazornik j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO Of the 37 films with ties to Israel in this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, one in particular has several promi- nent BAayArea Jewish leaders and activists outraged. On July 25 and Aug. 4, the Festival will show "Rachel," a documentary that explores the controversial death of American peace activist Ra- chel Corrie at age 23. Festival organizers invited Corrie's mother, Cindy, to a Q&A session following the July 25 screening. Local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, an Oakland- based group that supports Palestinian self-control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and theAmerican Friends Service Committee, a social justice organization of Quakers and others who have taken up the cause of the people of Gaza, signed on to help the festival promote "Rachel" to their constituencies. Peter Stein. the film festi- val's executive director, said that given his six years of experience with the festival. in addition to its 29-year run. the backlash "certainly didn't surprise" him."I was not na]'ve that this was a controversial film." Stein explained, noting that he has received a few phone calls and roughly 15 e-mails from those expressing discontent. "I know there are many members of the com- munity who would prefer if the festival stayed away from pro- gramming films on difficult topics or topics of passionate division of opinion. "That being said, if we, as an arts organization, are going to remain relevant in our time, it really is part of our role to catalyze conversation, how- ever uncomfortable it may be." Jewish filmmaker Simone Bitton splits the focus of her 2008 documentary between Corrie's work with the Inter- national Solidarity Movement (a Palestinian-led group com- mitted to using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles) and the investiga- tion that followed her death in March 2003. Corrie, who was from Olympia, Wash., reportedly was killed by an Israel Defense Forces-operated bulldozer while protesting the destruc- tion of Palestinian houses in Rafah, a city that shares a border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. The film has been shown this year in at least seven festivals, including events in Berlin, Paris. Buenos Aires. New York and Toronto. While Cindy Corrie. who serves as president of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice (founded after Corrie's death) appears briefly in the 100-minute film, reading an excerpt from a let- ter written by her daughter, it is her appearance at the film festival that has many up in arms. "The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival made a serious error in judgment in inviting Mrs. Corrie to the festival," Israel Consul General Akiva Tor said via e-mail. "She is a propagandist who is immune from responsibility for the causes she supports because it was her daughter, Rachel, who was accidentally killed. "So her staged presence becomes a kind of emotional grandstanding, rather than pursuit of a deeper insight." and France, declined Stein's invitation to speak about !'Ra- chel" atthe upcomingfestival, citing traveling conflicts. The film, made available to j. on DVD, attempts to show both sides of Corrie's mission and her death, weaving ex- cerpts from her journal (read aloud by her fellow members [Rachel] reportedly was killed by an Israel Defense Forces-oper- ated bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian houses in Rafah, a city that shares a border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. The decision to include "Rachel" at this year's festival, which runs July 23 through Aug. 10. was based on several factors, Stein said. For one. he and S FJFF program director Nancy Fish- man saw the documentary when it made its debut at this year's Berlin International Film Festival and deemed the movie a "worthwhile piece of filmmaking on an important subject matter." Second, the pair shares a professional relationship with Bitton, having screened two of her films--"Mahmoud Darwich: As the Land is the Language" in 1998 and "Wall" in 2005--at previous festivals. Bitton. who is Jewish and holds dual citizenship in Israel of the International Solidar- ity Movement) with interview subjects who present varying accounts of her death. That's not to say Bitton shies away from controversy. For example, the filmmaker showcases an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman who calls Corrie's death "a regret- table incident" and claims the bulldozer never touched her. and then a Palestinian doctor who claims to have witnessed the incident, after which he says. "The Jews have killed our friend Rachel Corrie.'" As for Cindy Corrie's pres- ence and participation at the screening, Stein said it is customary for film festivals to encourage the subjects of documentaries or cast members of fictional films to engage in an open dialogue with the audience. "Our plan is for me to be in conversation with her, then open it up to a Q&A," Stein said. "We're not asking Cindy Corrie to make a speech. She's viewing this as an opportunity to talk about the issues raised in the film. "In some ways, it's a credit to her that she may know she's coming to face, if not a hostile audience, then cer- tainly members who have a strongly different opinion on the events surrounding her daughter's death, or Israeli and Palestinian affairs." Though he hasn't yet seen "Rachel," Rabbi Doug Kahn, head of the S. F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said the decision to invite Cindy Corrie is "very problematic," noting her presence would "increase the likelihood that it will become a political forum." Added Kahn: "I called Peter within seconds of learning about the film and her appear- ance to let him know there would be significant criticism. All in all. it was an ill-advised decision. But it should also be looked at in the context of the overall festival program, which offers a tremendous array of films about Israel." To Stein's knowledge, no protests or boycotts of the doc- umentary have been planned. He added that the festival is taking the appropriate mea- sures to ensure guest safety at the film's two screenings, in San Francisco and Berkeley Stein was quick to point out that this is not the first time the SFJFF has shown contro- versial films. He recalled re- ceiving criticism in 2005 when two conscientious objectors from the Israeli Army Reserve appeared in conjunction with the documentary "On the Objection Front." In 2006, the decision to in- vite EvaMozes Kor, the subject of"Forgiving Dr. Mengele,"was metwith challengesbecause of her controversial views on for- giveness of Nazi perpetrators. Pro-Israel activist Natan Nestel of Berkeley voiced his disapproval for this year's presentation of "Rachel" in a lengthy letter to j., calling on the SFJFF board of directors to "acknowledge the mistake" they made and "cancel the anti-Israel propaganda event." "Corrie has become a hero of anti-Israel extremists," Nestelwrote. "Her story is not really aboutayoungAmerican activist who died of complex circumstances. It's about promoting a hate-filled and glaringly one-sided anti-Israel agenda." While Stein said he realizes some films and guest appear- ances can be "polarizing," he hopes audience members will "take a step back to under- standwhat the motivation and intentions are" with regard to the programming. "Our Jewish community in the Bay Area," Stein said. "is big enough and strong enough to not only tolerate this dif- ficult conversation and film. but grow stronger by them." Reprinted with permission fromj, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, www. jewishscom. Lubavitchers From page 1A Jewish communities. Some have been returned, includ- ing records from the French Ministry of War and the Brit- ish Expeditionary Forces. The Schneersohn papers, however, remain in Russian state hands. Schneersohn was born in Lyubavichi, Russia, the home of the Lubavitch movement. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Schneersohn defied persecution by the atheistic Communist government to continue his outreach work, and in 1927 he was arrested. According to Lubavitch officials. Schneersohn was sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted after international protests, and he was expelled from the Soviet Union. Some scholars say Schneersohn was never sentenced to death and that he decided to leave on his own to avoid another arrest. When World War II broke out, Schneersohn was living in Poland. What followed, re- searchers say, was an atypical intervention by the Germans that saved his life. German authorities-- most notably Wilhelm Ca- naris, head of the German military intelligence ser- vice-were persuaded to help Schneersohn leave Warsaw after a flurry of letters and telegrams from and phone calls with Jewish leaders and U.S. officials, according to Zaklikovsky, although their motives have never fully been explained. First they had to find Sch- neersohn--no easy task. as local Jews feared the invad- ers. The Germans deployed a half-Jewish officer. Ernst Bloch, who spoke Yiddish. "They basically went searchirg for the rebbe in Warsaw," Zaklikofsky said. "Wherever they went, no- body would answer the door, as they were afraid. Even when they finally reached the house where the rebbe and his family were, they didn't want to let them in." After negotiations, Sch- neersohn was evacuated to Berlin, and then on to Riga, Stockholm and finally New York. where he arrived in early 1940. Amid the dislocations of war, Schneersohn's docu- ments were left behind. Rather than destroying them. the Germans stored them. "They were interested in Jewish archives, masonic archives, socialist archives. certain key archives of what they called the 'enemies of the Reich,'" said Patricia Grimsted. a Harvard Uni- versity expert on Russian archives. "I should think they should have been in- terested [in Schneersohn's files] because he was forced to leave the Soviet Union; it was a very contested case in the '20s." The Soviet army eventu- ally captured the docu- ments and took them to Moscow. Some books and manuscripts had been left in Poland. With the help of the U.S. State Department and an introduction by busi- nessman Edward Piszek, the Polish authorities returned six crates of material to Lubavitch in 1977, saidAbra- ham Shemtov. currently head of the Lubavitch um- brella organization Agudas Chasidei Chabad and one of the key figures in arranging the transfer. Legal efforts to secure the return of the documents in Russia began in 2004. Shemtov said he could not comment on why the case was brought in the United States rather than Russia because legal proceedings are ongoing. Since the case was brought, the director of the Russian archive. Vladimir Kuzelenkov, has locked away the documents as a precau- tion. and researchers have not had access to them. Re- cently, however. Kuzelenkov granted access to JTA. Walking through the ster- ile corridors of the Russian State Military Archive to a shadowy room where thou- sands of boxes sit on shelves. Kuzelenkov took a brown box and opened it to reveal a handful of folders. Inside were yellowing sheaves of typewritten Hebrew texts and official documents in elegant German and Russian script. The papers rustled in the quiet air. "You can't say we look after them badly, can you?" Kuzelenkov said. Marshall Grossman, a lawyer for Lubavitch, said an international police inves- tigation was launched after documents from the archive reportedly were put up for sale on the black market, mostly in Israel. He declined to provide details. Kuzelenkov denies the allegation. "The essence of my life is preserving these things," he said. "We wouldn't call some- one who sold them a thief; we'd call them a traitor." In principle, the archive is not opposed to giving Lubavitch the collection, Kuzelenkov said. But the archive will only consider claims made according to the terms of a 1998 Russian law that provides for the na- tionalization and occasional restitution of documents; the archive will not respond to a U.S. lawsuit. Another key element, he said. would be compensation for the money the archive has spent preserving the materials. Grossman said Russia would be unlikely to be re- ceptive to a claim based on the 1998 law. In the same suit, Lubavitch lawyers also are seeking the return of a separate collec- tion of 12,000 books held in a Moscow state library. According to Lubavitch, the fifth rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, had stored them in a Moscow warehouse and they were seized by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. Their status was first contested in the early 1990s. when a Soviet court ruled that they were the property of Lubavitch. But a later decision nullified the ruling. The head of Lubavitch in Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, said he favors a diplomatic solution to securing the return of the collections. "We personally feel that finding diplomatic avenues is probably more efficient to convince the Russians," he said. For now, Schneersohn's documents remain in limbo. rdenc; we offer isted Living, and Rehabilitation Care. What makes aS iqu:is 1301 W. Maitland BLvd. ' VILION Maitland, FL 32751 407-645-3990 Various Jvisb services are offered at Savamiak Court ALF License No. 8447. SNF 1 635096 thanks m our Friends at The Jeu, id Pavilion.