Judge orders Main Line theater to screen film that had been canceled amid outcry over the Israeli Film Festival [because TDP went to emergency court]

A Montgomery County judge on Tuesday ordered a Main Line theater to screen a film about an Israeli musician — part of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia — that had been canceled the day before amid mounting objections to the festival from organizations critical of Israel.

The film, The Child Within Me, about Yehuda Poliker, was shown Tuesday night at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute as part of the ongoing festival, which is now in its 28th year.

The institute on Monday announced it was canceling the screening. In a statement, BMFI said it was not a political organization despite hosting the festival in previous years.

“However, as the situation in Israel and Gaza has developed, it has become clear that our showing this movie is being widely taken among individuals and institutions in our community as an endorsement of Israel’s recent and ongoing actions. This is not a statement we intended or wish to make. For this reason, BMFI is canceling the sole screening of the music documentary, The Child Within Me,” the institute said on Monday.

By Tuesday afternoon, it released a statement of apology, saying that the cancellation was “due to concern for public safety.”

“BMFI is an institution run by human beings. 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 statement read.

Groups including the Bi-Co Jewish Voice for Peace had opposed the screening because the festival benefits from fundraising for the state of Israel through its sponsors, Israel Bonds and the Consulate General of Israel.

“We were upset to see the same money that funds a genocide going toward a local beloved business,” said Elez Beresin-Scher, 21, a Bryn Mawr College junior who organizes with Bi-Co Students for Justice in Palestine and Bi-Co Jewish Voice for Peace, including students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.

After the theater said on Monday that it was canceling the screening, those same groups cheered the decision and called off a planned protest at the theater Tuesday night.

But lawyers for the film festival went to court, arguing that the cancellation was a breach of contract, and Judge Richard P. Haaz, of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, agreed.

The Child Within Me has nothing to do with current events in Israel or the war currently ongoing in the Middle East,” the lawyers wrote in their complaint.

After the court order was issued Tuesday, the Israeli Film Festival posted on its website: “This attempt to censor the arts and culture of Israel was not successful.”

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, a lawyer for the film festival, called the judge’s order “an extraordinary remedy … to right an extraordinary wrong.” The theater’s earlier decision to cancel the screening, Marcus said in a statement Tuesday, “was a cowardly response to bullying.”

Beresin-Scher. said: “The court order was upsetting because it portrayed college students who were trying to make a difference in their community as dangerous groups who threatened the BMFI. What actually happened was we held peaceful, civil dialogue. We are not even sure that it was our conversations that led to their decision to cancel.”

Students said they were not protesting the film itself but the festival overall. Beresin-Scher participated in conversations with BMFI to inform it of the festival’s sponsors and described the talks as “personal and kind.” After the court order, she said students did not protest the event because they understood that the theater was legally obligated to host it.

“As a Jewish person, I feel a deep commitment to tikkun olam, making the world a better place, which, for me, means a responsibility to use my voice to speak out against the Israeli government’s horrific treatment of the Palestinian people,” said Beresin-Scher.

Israel’s actions stem from Hamas’ deadly invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when attackers killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 people hostage. More than 33,400 Palestinians have been killed in the relentless fighting, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count.

The Philly Palestine Coalition, which also demanded that the film screening be canceled and took issue with the festival’s sponsors, could not be reached for comment about the court order.

The initial cancellation of the film screening prompted condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

“Although BMFI states that this decision was made in an attempt to avoid controversy, this action only serves to blacklist Israeli culture, playing into the hands of antisemites who try to deny the Jewish people their voice and existence,” both organizations said in a joint statement.

https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/bryn-mawr-israeli-film-festival-20240409.html

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