Hamilton’s Westdale Theatre reverses course after protest; will show ‘Israelism’ film Wednesday

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Published December 4, 2023 at 9:00 am

Rabbi David Mivasair
Hamilton Rabbi David Mivasair

“The show will go on,” said Hamilton Rabbi David Mivasair after the Westdale Theatre reversed its decision to cancel the ‘Israelism’ documentary scheduled for Wednesday.

Mivasair, an outspoken critic of Israel and a member of the Independent Jewish Voices (IJV-Hamilton), the organizer of both the screening of the controversial documentary that takes a critical look at Israel, and of the November 30 protest at the west-end theatre, said the decision means the “tide is turning” in the fight by Jews against Zionism.

“I think it is significant as a microcosm of how the Zionist organization’s long-practiced pressure and intimidation are losing their potency,” he said.

On Friday the board changed its mind, with board president Fred Fuchs, a long-time Hollywood producer (Monkey Beach, Milton’s Secret) admitting the board reached its original decision without including some “important context and voices.”

“Our decision was wrong,” Fuchs wrote in a statement. “We determined there was no credible evidence the screening would cause harm to anyone in our community.”

Fred Fuchs, Westdale Theatre

Fuchs also acknowledged screening the film would be “important” to many people in Hamilton, especially as there will be a panel discussion with co-director Erin Axelman and local IJV-Hamilton members following the screening “to provide context” on the subject matter.

‘Israelism’ is a documentary on the quickly changing North American Jewish relationship to Israel. Featuring interviews with several prominent Jews such as Noam Chomsky, the film follows two young American Jews – Simone and Eitan – who are raised to defend the state of Israel at all costs. Eitan joins the Israeli military while Simone supports Israel on ‘the other battlefield’ of America’s college campuses.

As the film description notes, when they witness Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinian people with their own eyes, “they are horrified and heartbroken – the Jewish institutions that raised them not only lied, but built their Jewish identity around that lie.”

“It’s our story. It’s our lives,” Mivisair said on Twitter. “A film by Jews, about Jews, for Jews.”

Several dozen people showed up at the theatre Thursday to protest the original Westdale decision to ‘postpone’ the screening and the Hamilton Coalition To Stop the War called it “another small victory for Palestine” after the reversal by the Westdale board the following day.

Fuchs said in his statement screening films dealing with controversial topics is “core” to the board’s mandate of “encouraging the inclusion of diverse culture groups” and added the board will “look within” to “learn and grow,” including looking at the theatre board’s composition.

He also noted the board was “not alone” in “getting caught up” in the controversies surrounding the war in Israel and Gaza and also not alone among North American theatres “struggling” with the screening of the film.

The Israel-Hamas war, which began October 7, has led to a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in Canada, as well as demonstrations here and around the world.

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