DC suburb to screen Roger Waters 'occupation' film despite Jewish pushback

In a message from the council regarding the screening, the members said that there will be a chance for discussion following the film but that members of the Jewish community declined to attend.

July 20, 2019 21:05
3 minute read.
FILE PHOTO: British rock star Roger Waters walks along the Israeli barrier in Bethlehem

FILE PHOTO: British rock star Roger Waters walks along the Israeli barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (photo credit: REUTERS/AHMAD MEZHIR/FILE PHOTO)

An anti-Israel film narrated by BDS advocate and former Pink Floyd rockstar Roger Waters has drawn controversy in a suburb of Washington, with Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart allowing it take place along with a followup discussion that includes members of CAIR and JVP.

“Occupation of the American Mind,” which is narrated by Waters, describes itself on its IMDB page as "an analysis of Israel's decades-long battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American people."

The screening of the film was initially planned to take place on June 13, but was postponed by the city council after pushback by members of the community. The council decided to ensure that critics of the film attend the event and discuss their opinions of the message of the movie.

Regarding the decision to screen the film at the Takoma Park Community Center Auditorium on July 23, Stewart said that the "the city council.. did not pick it and does not back the message of this film."

"We postponed it because when we learned that there wasn't going to be a discussion and a place... to have a critique of the film and discussion, we felt it was best to postpone and step back and consider how to move forward," the mayor said at a city council meeting.

In a message from the council this week regarding the screening, the members said that there will be a chance for discussion following the screening, but that members of the Jewish community declined to attend.

"The city is still in the process of putting together the Program Agenda for the film screening," the announcement says. "We have engaged a professional facilitator... to help us structure and lead the program. Invitations have been extended to organizations. We regret to say that the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) has declined our invitation to the film and we are disappointed in their decision.

"We will continue to update our Program Agenda as more information becomes available."

The groups attending the discussion include Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), both of which back the BDS movemen.

According to the Montgomery County Sentinel, the Executive Director of the JCRC Ronald Halber responded to the invitation, saying: “I would never sit on a panel with JVP or CAIR,” and said both groups are “so outlandish, so anti-Zionist, so anti-Israel.”

Sitting on the same panel “with people who question the very right of Israel’s legitimacy would give them credibility,” Halber said.

A letter signed Halber to the Mayor of Takoma Park expressed the community’s dismay that the screening had not be cancelled altogether.

"It was [our] understanding... that the film screening would be postponed perhaps until even next year and that you and members of the arts commission would engage in further conversations with our staff regarding strategies for presenting a more balanced approach to this difficult but important topic, that would not involve this film," the letter stated. "Since that conversation, we have not heard anything further from your office or the staff person for the arts commission.  We are dismayed that we learned of this new plan only from your communications staff."

"That is hardly the basis for a respectful and productive dialogue," the letter continued. "It is completely dismissive of Takoma Park’s many Jewish residents, and our national Jewish community who have already endured the dangerous escalation of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence locally and nationwide over the last year."

After the first-push to have the showing cancelled, the JCRC said in a statement, "“The very title and description of the film, asserting that pro-Israel groups are engaged in a propaganda campaign to control the American media and government, echoes sinister, age-old antisemitic tropes about Jews that of late are resurfacing with alarming regularity."

“The film’s rhetoric sheds more heat than light and only serves to inflame and divide people rather than increasing mutual understanding."

JTA contributed to this report.

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