Protest planned at Hamilton’s Westdale Theatre Thursday after postponement of ‘Israelism’


Published November 29, 2023 at 8:20 pm

The Independent Jewish Voices of Hamilton is organizing a protest of the Westdale Theatre Thursday after the theatre’s board of directors abruptly cancelled a screening of the controversial film Israelism, citing “significant changes in the social and political climate” since the booking was made.

The screening of the documentary, which takes a critical look at the changing North American Jewish relationship to Israel and features interviews with noted Jewish figures such as Noam Chomsky, was scheduled to take place at the west Hamilton theatre December 6.

Westdale’s Fred Fuchs said the board made the decision to “postpone” the screening of the film, while leaving the door open to “revisit the possibility” of showing the documentary “once the social and political climate stabilizes.”

“The decision to postpone comes as a result of significant changes in the social and political landscape since the rental booking was initially confirmed, including the commencement of an international war, political protest in the City of Hamilton … and the extremely heightened tensions at this time in the local and broader community,” Fuchs wrote to both the Independent Jewish Voices of Hamilton (IJV-Hamilton) and Tikkim Olam Productions.

Fuchs also cited the ongoing hostage negotiations between the Hamas political organization in Gaza and the Israeli government as a reason to postpone the screening.

IJV-Hamilton, however, called the postponement of the screening the result of a “powerfully orchestrated campaign against venues across North America” and called on Hamiltonians to join the protest at the King St. W theatre at noon Thursday.

“The film is about the Zionist establishment silencing us (and) the capitulation of the community theatre’s board to this pressure is an enactment of the film itself.”

Directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, Israelism primarily follows two young American Jews – Simone and Eitan – who are raised to defend the state of Israel at all costs but become disillusioned with Israeli policies after service to the state. They join the movement of young American Jews battling the old guard over Israel’s centrality in American Judaism and demanding freedom for the Palestinian people. Their stories, combined with appearances from scholar-activists like Chomsky and Cornel West, reveal a generational divide among Jewish people in North America.

Fuchs said the Westdale, which hosts the Hamilton Jewish Comedy Festival each spring, “does not take the position the film is anti-Semite” and “supports free speech and important social dialogue” but declared the present environment an “inopportune time” to showcase the documentary.

He added that he hopes IJV-Hamilton understands the need for the Westdale board to “create a safe and inclusive space” for the community during these “challenging times.”

IJV-Hamilton was not on board with the postponement and made that quite clear to the Westdale Theatre in a social media post.

“We will protest this silencing of Jewish voices and disruption of our vital conversations among ourselves about our own lives in what purports to be an open community space,” IJV-Hamilton said. “The board’s talk about wanting to keep us ‘safe’ is condescending and entirely disingenuous.”

The group plans on securing an alternate venue and screen the film as planned on Wednesday, December 6, followed by a Q&A with co-director Erin Axelman and a panel of local IJV members.

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