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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘Israelism’ screening at Dartmouth explores changing perspectives on Israel among Jewish Americans

Co-hosted by the Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth and the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, the documentary film “Israelism” was shown recently in Filene Auditorium.

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On Feb. 5, the screening tour of the 2023 documentary film “Israelism” came to Dartmouth. The screening, which was held in Filene Auditorium, was co-hosted by the Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth and the Palestine Solidarity Coalition. A range of students and local community members attended the screening, which was followed by a Q&A session over Zoom with co-director Sam Eilertsen. 

“Israelism” follows the stories of two Jewish Americans as they navigate their changing relationships with Israel. According to the film’s website, “Israelism” explores “how Jewish attitudes towards Israel are changing dramatically, with massive consequences for the region and for Judaism itself.” Liz Blum, a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace and an Upper Valley for Palestine activist, attended the screening and described the film as being about “recovering from Zionism.”

Before the film started, Blum was invited to the podium to say a few words. She discussed the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, a bill that was going to be voted on the next day that would provide monetary support to the Israeli military. The bill was not passed.

“Israelism” was originally released in February 2023, but has “had a moment in terms of media attention since October 7th,” according to Eilertsen. Kevin Engel ’27, a PSC and CoFIRED member, emphasized the importance of the film’s screening at Dartmouth. 

“I think that its release was at a really good time,” Engel said. “I think it’s having a much greater impact now, and I think it’s important because there’s a lot of misinformation [that] there’s a lot of correlation between being pro-Palestinian and being antisemitic, and that’s just not the case.”

Screenings of the film have been controversial across other college campuses. According to The Forward, an independent, American Jewish newspaper, colleges that are screening the film have received emails that state the film depicts “nuanced antisemitism that fuels the flames of hate and brainwashes young minds.” At the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA’s Students Supporting Israel chapter president called the film “entirely propaganda,” according to the Jewish Journal, a weekly newsletter.

The film starts with a focus on how many Jewish Americans view Israel as a safe place for Jewish people in light of the antisemitism in the modern world. Interviews and clips in the film depict how many young Jewish Americans are taught from a young age to be pro-Israel. As the film progresses, it shifts to focus on the disillusionment of many Jewish Americans as they learn of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which is described in the film as an “oppressive apartheid regime.”

The film goes on to discuss how many Jewish Americans and politicians call protests against Israeli occupation antisemitic. However, the end of the film highlights the dangers of describing protests against Israeli occupation as antisemitism, noting that antisemitism is also manifested in the form of hate crimes, conspiracy theories, white nationalism and mass shootings. 

“This film is important to understand how young Jews are indoctrinated and why,” Blum explained. “But, I also think it would be really good to hear the Palestinian point of view. I think the two of them go together.” 

Deborah Jung ’24, who was in the audience at the screening, said that the film “was able to acknowledge that Jewish American support for Israel often comes out of intergenerational trauma and pro-Israel education from a young age, while also showing that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is brutal and indefensible.” 

The film’s screening tour began in June 2023 and continues through February 2024, with screenings at Harvard University and Yale University. As “Israelism” has made its way across cities and other college campuses, it has sparked controversy and discussions, particularly in light of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine rallies on several college campuses following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

“We heard that there were a lot of behind-the-scenes attempts to cancel screenings,” Eilertsen said. “But then, after October 7th, things got much more intense.” 

Most attempts to cancel screenings were unsuccessful, according to Eilertsen, other than a notable instance at Hunter College. According to the New York Times, a screening of the film was scheduled at Hunter College, one of the colleges in the City University of New York, for Nov. 14, 2023. On the morning of Nov. 14, Hunter College President Ann Kirschner announced the film would be canceled, citing security concerns.

“In the current climate, we seek to balance our commitment to free speech and academic freedom with the danger of antisemitic and divisive rhetoric,” Kirschner said in a statement, according to The New York Times. 

Eilertsen felt that the justification for the cancellation at Hunter College was unfair. 

“The president of Hunter ... put out a statement, basically implying the film would put Jewish students in danger and implicitly comparing us to people who are drawing swastikas on buildings, which is deeply offensive,” Eilertsen said. 

Several faculty and staff criticized the decision due to its “egregious and illegitimate violation” of academic freedom. The film was later rescheduled for Dec. 5, and Krischner’s statement has since been taken down online, the New York Times noted.

Eilertsen noted that it is “usually Jewish student groups that are sponsors or co-sponsors of our events,” which was not the case at Dartmouth. The film’s screenings at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were held by MIT Jews for Ceasefire, a group of  “MIT students/staff/faculty/alumni in solidarity with Palestine” according to their Instagram page. At Barnard College, the film’s screening — which was initially canceled and then reversed — was held by Jewish students and faculty, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator. 

Blum and Engel expressed disappointment at the number of students who showed up to the screening, although Blum acknowledged that people who attended the screening were “already convinced” of the film’s message. 

“I don’t know why there were so few people in the audience — I expected it to be full,” Blum said. “But I didn’t hear any opposition, let me put it that way. A lot of people who came to see it were already convinced.” 

Eilertsen noted that the film intended to “reach beyond the choir” and engage with people who may disagree with the film’s message. 

“It was a film we wanted to reach beyond the choir with and engage people of all opinions or none yet about Israel-Palestine, particularly within the Jewish community,” Eilertsen said. “We didn’t want it to only reach people who already agreed with us.” 

Engel noted that many local community members from Upper Valley for Palestine attended the screening. 

“[Blum] was very vocal throughout the whole thing, and I think that’s nice to see because [Upper Valley for Palestine activists] are so passionate,” Engel said. “It was nice to have them there.”

Eilertsen said he hoped one of the major takeaways from the screening was that demanding freedom and rights for Palestinians was not mutually exclusive with fighting antisemitism.

“There is a growing movement in the American Jewish community that is willing to speak out loudly against the oppression of Palestinians, against the apartheid in Israel, against this horrific massacre of Palestinians,” Eilertsen said. “It’s ongoing in Gaza, and we may not be the majority of the community right now, but we are a significant and growing portion of the community.”