May 25, 2019

Jewish Community Protests WeHo City Council’s Showing of Anti-Israel Film ‘1948’

Members of the Jewish community held a protest outside of the West Hollywood City Council chamber on April 16 to protest the screening of the anti-Israel film “1948: Creation and Catastrophe.”

The protests were organized by a West Hollywood Israel coalition, consisting of Congregation Kol Ami, JQ, the Iranian Jewish Federation, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), A Wider Bridge, Israel Civic American Action Network and members of StandWithUs. Around 25 people joined the outside protest, which featured members of the coalition handing out Israeli flags to passersby as well as flyers highlighting the myriad inaccuracies in the film. Additionally, more than 70 members of the coalition attended the film’s screening and panel discussion afterward.

The flyers handed out pointed out that the film claims that Zionists committed “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians in 1948:

Sean Siegel, an alumnus of SSI and the organizer of the protest, told the Journal, “The protest is to get the city of West Hollywood to open their eyes at what this film truly is and represents, and that’s why we’re here. We want our voices to be heard.”

He added that by showing the film, the city council is not living up to its progressive ideals.

“They’re only showing one side, so the message that they’re sending to people is that we accept some people, not all people,” Siegel said.

Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami told the Journal that she organized the coalition in December to lobby the city council against showing the film. The city council postponed the film from being shown on its original screening date, December 12, but the city council voted 3-2 on April 1 to show the film this month. City Councilmember Lauren Meister, who voted to postpone the film in December, voted in favor of showing the film in April.

Eger pointed out that the vote to postpone the film occurred before the March elections for the city council and the vote to screen the film occurred after the elections.

“I guess [Meister] was counting her votes and realized she was re-elected didn’t need the Jewish community’s support,” Eger said.

Eger said she hoped that the people passing by the protest “question what they see in the documentary.”

“The film is presented as a historical and authentic documentary with academics, and the truth is it’s filled with lies and exaggerations and distortions about the history of Israel and the plight of the Palestinians,” Eger said, “and I want the people to understand that the city of West Hollywood has really gone and done something that I think is very unsupportive of the Jewish community that has long been part of West Hollywood by sponsoring this film.”

Afterward, Eger told the Journal in an email that protesters talked to a lot of people passing by and that “most were shocked that the City of West Hollywood would sponsor such a film.”

“All were surprised at the one-sided nature of the panel, and for the city residents, that there was no process of community input into how a film gets selected,” Eger wrote.

The Journal attended both the screening of the film and the panel discussion afterward. No one on the panel challenged the film, and all dismissed criticisms that the film was anti-Semitic. In February, Debra Glazer, Orange County representative for StandWithUs, told the Journal that the film depicts Israeli Jews “war criminals and monsters, creating ill will and potentially putting Jews and supporters of Israel in danger.” She had seen the film at UC Irvine on January 31.

Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey Horvath told the Journal before the screening that while she hadn’t seen the film, she was “disappointed and concerned about the discord that has been created in our community as a result of the choice for this film to be screened on the city’s dime, with city resources, and featuring speakers who support the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement, which is in complete contrast to the city’s policy of opposing the BDS movement.”

“I support people’s right to free speech, but I also believe that we deserve to live in safe communities,” Horvath said.

After the screening and panel discussion ended, Horvath told the Journal, “I think there was a clear point that was presented tonight and I look forward to another point of view being offered next month.”

Before the screening started, City Councilmember John Heilman told an audience of nearly 165 people that the city is looking into hosting a pro-Israel panel sometime in May.

Joe Sabag, the head of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, told the Journal in a statement via email, “The propaganda used in ‘1948: Creation and Catastrophe’ is part of a systematic effort to promote bigoted and hateful perspectives about Jews. As history shows, this kind of propaganda eventually gives way to anti-Semitic discrimination, and ultimately persecution. It is extremely disturbing that the City of West Hollywood – a city otherwise known for standing against hatred and bigotry – went through with screening this film.”

Judea Pearl said in a statement to the Journal via email, “The incomprehensible blunder of the city of North Hollywood made me realize that my generation, the Counter-Holocaust Survivors of 1945-1948, is in danger of becoming extinct, and that the American public, Jews included, knows close to nothing about the intended Arab genocide of 1947-1948. Like European Holocaust survivors, we must bear witness.”