Screening of polarizing ‘Israelism’ documentary at Hamilton’s Westdale Theatre a sold-out success
Published December 8, 2023 at 2:01 pm
The screening of the polarizing documentary Israelism, a film made by Jews critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza, was a success, said noted local activist Rabbi David Mivasair.
“It was a full house with meaningful conversation tonight at the Westdale,” Mivasair said after the screening. “Thank you to everyone who shared the experience.”
The film was booked at the west end theatre in August – before the war in Gaza began October 7 – and was abruptly cancelled last Thursday, with Westdale Board of Directors chair Fred Fuchs citing “significant changes” in the social and political landscape since the booking.
After a protest at the theatre by supporters of Independent Jewish Voices Hamilton (IJV-Hamilton), which organized the screening, Fuchs backtracked the cancellation the next day, saying the board “made a mistake.”
“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.”
That prompted a response from the Hamilton Jewish Federation, who said the involvement of IJV-Hamilton – which they referred to as an “anti-Israeli lobby group” – “does not contribute positively to our community,” and cancelled next spring’s Jewish Film Federation, which has been held at the Westdale the past two years, and “any future programs.”
Mivasair, a member of IJV-Hamilton and an outspoken critic of the Israeli government and Zionism, said the Hamilton Jewish Federation’s response to the Westdale’s decision to screen Israelism is about “circling the wagons ever tighter” in suppressing open dialogue about the war in Gaza, which has led to thousands of deaths and a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in Canada, as well as demonstrations here and around the world.
The reaction to Mivasair’s post on Twitter about the sold-out show at the Westdale was unsurprisingly mixed. There were expressions of support but the Rabbi was also called an anti-Semite and even a Nazi.
“Some Jews,” he said in response, “are really hurting and don’t know how to deal with it all.”
‘Israelism’ is a documentary on the quickly changing North American Jewish relationship with Israel. Featuring interviews with several prominent Jews and social activist allies such as Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, 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.”
The documentary can been seen online at http://IsraelismFilm.com.
The Hamilton Jewish Federation said it would be exploring alternate venues for next year’s film festival, which moved to the newly renovated 342-seat Westdale Theatre in 2022 after more than a decade of showing the films at local synagogues.
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