WeHo Postpones Plan to Screen Film on Israel After Jewish Community Leaders Express Concern

Confronted with criticism from Rabbi Denise Eger and other members of the city’s Jewish community, the City of West Hollywood has postponed plans to co-host “1948: Creation & Catastrophe,” a documentary about the founding of modern Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The documentary was to have been screened on Dec. 12 at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers as part of the city’s Human Rights Speakers Series. It was to have been followed by a panel discussion including Andy Trimlett and Ahlam Muhtaseb, co-producers and co-directors of the documentary.

Asst. City Manager David Wilson announced the postponement at the City Council meeting tonight in response to a question from Councilmember Lindsey Horvath. Wilson said city staff would discuss the reaction to the proposed screening and work with the producers of the film.

The documentary’s website says that “1948” (a reference to the year the modern state of Israel was founded) “tells the story of the establishment of the state of Israel through the eyes of the people who lived it.”

“It is simply not possible to understand what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today without an understanding of what happened in 1948. This documentary was the last chance for many of its Israeli and Palestinian interviewees to narrate their first-hand accounts of the creation of a state and the expulsion of a nation.”

The documentary has been criticized by some who see it as being anti-Israel and have called out co-producer Muhtaseb for comments she has made about Israel. Muhtaseb is a professor of media studies at California State University, San Bernardino, who has done field work in Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.

In an email message to council members on Friday, Rabbi Eger of Congregation Kol Ami said: “I am shocked that the City of West Hollywood is allowing this piece of anti-Israel propaganda to be shown on city property … This in our city with a sizeable Jewish population The film ‘1948’ is unbalanced and nothing but propaganda..

“The person who is a producer for this so called documentary is a well-documented anti-Israel anti-Semitic professor who regularly attacks Israel and the Jewish people … I am urging you the members of the City Council to cancel this event. In a time when the Jewish community is under heightened threats of violence following Pittsburgh, and when a Muslim anti-Israel activist tried to run over Jews last Shabbat on La Brea as they walked home from synagogue –allowing this film to be shown at this time and the anti-Israel speakers to foment hate in our city is irresponsible. “

Eger called out Muhtaseb for her support for the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, which calls for people and governments to boycott Israel and divest from investments in Israeli companies. She also accused Muhtaseb of taking a sympathetic view of Omar el-Abed, a Palestinian man who in July 2017 broke into a home and stabbed three Israelis to death as they were celebrating the Sabbath and the birth of a new grandson. And she said that in July 2017, Muhtaseb put a post on her Facebook page “urging her friends to sign a petition condemning pro-Israel activism and alleging a conspiracy aimed to ‘repress Palestinian rights activists here in the US.’ The petition went on to claim that ‘Palestine activists at San Francisco State University have been under attack for years’ by pro-Israel advocates.”

Eger isn’t the only one who expressed concerns about the screening. For example, Tyler Gregory, the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization advancing LGBTQ equality in Israel, wrote to council members saying “it pains me to hear that the city plans to screen ‘1948’ on December 12th, a film that seeks to undermine Israel’s right to exist. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something deeply personal to many residents of West Hollywood, and this film lacks the balance and nuance needed to properly engage the community with these issues.”

City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath raised the issue of the Dec. 12 screening with David Wilson at the City Council meeting. Horvath, in an interview with WEHOville, said she respects the right to free speech, which she sees as creating a safe space for the discussion of issues and ideas. But, she said, when “we give license to people who advocate for eliminating Israel, we are creating an environment where people feel unsafe.”

“We don’t need to become a refuge for hatred,” Horvath said of West Hollywood. “We want to be a refuge, a safe space, where people can live their lives.”

Horvath also has expressed concerns about plans by UCLA to host the National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference last month. “SJP is known for organizing sensationalist, anti-Israel protests and events on college campuses,” Horvath said in a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “According to recent accounts SJP members have posted violent, anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media, ranging from calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people to the admiration of Adolf Hitler and hateful calls for violence.”

While Wilson said the “1948” screening was being postponed, Eger said that wasn’t enough. In an email message to City Manager Paul Arevalo, who wasn’t at tonight’s city council meeting, said she hoped the city could “put this film to rest.”

“The producers of this film are virulent anti-Israel advocates,” she wrote. “And the movie they have made is filled with errors and outright lies. I was under the impression that if the city wanted to have a discussion about the complexity of Israel and Palestine then we ought to have different kind of discussion. This film is throwing gas on a fire.”

  1. “Let Future Generations Understand the Burden and Blessings of Freedom”

    Inscribed on the
    George H. W. Bush Library

  2. I have lived in Weho since 1994. This city is one of intellect and ideas. Open, many times controversial discussion is how many of us get a take away. The film should be screened and both sides MUST BE REPRESENTED. Then let the audience become enlightened. I’m not sure I will like this film or its message, but now I MUST SEE IT. (fyi—no relation to dennis palmieri, the events producer)

    1. Agreed, in accordance also with my comments below of Dec.4 & 5. But there may be more than “both sides” as perhaps the film (and I’ve not seen it) presents a complicated picture of more than just two points of view and multiple historical interpretations.

  3. If officialdom of West Hollywood continues to bow to parochial concerns and pressures of one group or another every time it evaluates the art it sponsors, the city should remove all references to progressive in the way it presents itself to the world.

    Civil discourse and debate based on intellectual curiosity are progressive values. Censoring it is not. We have developed a culture in which there is intolerance of free speech on all sides; we shout down ideas with which we disagree; we disinvite speakers or cancel movies; we tolerate a university culture in which trigger words are banned, and increasingly certain books are banned; we allow debate in which words and phrases are conflated without challenge.

    When we engage in the free exchange of ideas, even those we find unpleasant, we start to understand how people think. I read Breitbart on a regular basis, not as a source of news (which it’s not) but as a way to understand the increasingly scary far-right viewpoints of some portion of the population around me. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

    I’m reminded of a beautiful resolution which guides my own sense of inquiry and which was adopted in 1894 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater) cementing the concept of academic freedom. This resolution was based on a report in support the academic freedom of a professor who published a book on socialism:

    “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

    Winnowing and sifting is a beautiful metaphor for the pursuit of truth. Winnowing and sifting are also action verbs and we need to exercise those actions every day. There’s more grey in the world than the simplicity of our intellectually lazy black or white obstinance would suggest.

    Let’s put this shameful action of censorship to rest. The pursuit of truth can be painful at times, but denying a full airing of some of the ugliness will only delegitimize truth.

    1. I agree. It is clear Americans are not seeing what is going in Israel. There is certainly a need for public discussion. CNN has just fired someone for bringing a presumably critical point of view. This is no longer the spirit of democracy. Both sides of an issue should be shone. The trouble is big money determines what we are allowed to see.

    2. For us to have a democracy we must be open to all sides. There can be certain standards for presentation but not outright barring of material that happens to offend one or another group.

  4. Dear All,
    (with reference to below Dec. 4 comment)

    This in essence has nothing to do with Israel-Palestine but with the Rabbi’s arrogant assumption that at least one member of WeHo City Council is susceptible to such pressure to censoriously deprive our community of an educational/debatable experience.

    What’s next? Any number of other religious groups exerting influence on Council Members? Priests and Imams lobbying fragile Council Members for blockage of programs and policy?

    Council Members feeling free to intimidate, as Horvath is documented to have attempted, the UCLA administration? Council Members claiming historical/academic, even medical, expertise of which they know nothing? The Rabbi’s and Horvath’s actions in this respect are deplorable. Their silence now is deafening. Please inform when “1948” will be shown. And please, don’t stack a panel with unqualified, a-historical commentators.

    Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D. (Historian)

    1. It is simply stunning that folks would presume to interject ignorance and prejudice into an otherwise enlightening opportunity for the community and beyond. This is not a path towards resolution.

  5. The Palestinians don’t want peace. They want nothing less than the complete annihilation of Israel. They’ve demonstrated that many times.

  6. As a professor of modern Middle Eastern history who specializes in Israel/Palestine, speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic, has written and edited a dozen books on the subject, and has actually seen the film, I can say that it is a scholarly, balanced attempt to encourage thoughtful reflection and share verifiable knowledge about the early years of the world’s most intractable conflict. The attacks on it by people who have not and literally could not have seen the film (since it’s not been released publicly and is only accessible by secure server) is disgraceful. That people calling themselves “rabbis” would make such attacks on Prof. Muhtaseb is equally deplorable. Indeed, they cannot be rabbis by any definition of the term I have known, since for two thousand years “rabbi” has been used as to denote someone who’s spent years learning how to read texts and developed nuanced arguments based on their logic and the welfare of the Jewish community. Harboring chauvinistic prejudices against a scholar and slandering a work of scholarship you haven’t engaged is the very opposite of what a “rabbi” worth her or his name would do. The fact that the organized Jewish community, particularly in a place like Los Angeles, would tolerate and even encourage such outrageous behavior by its spiritual leaders, goes a long way to explaining why young Jews are leaving the community or joining the kinds of progressive movements like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, and Open Hillel, that are attempting to confront our own history and heal our relationship with Palestinians. The film may ultimately not be screened in WeHo, but this action is already having the opposite of the intended effect by encouraging more members of the community, including Jews, to see the film (it will screen in LA and also at UC Irvine in the near future). Those who are going out of their way to slander Prof. Muhtaseb are merely the local equivalents of President Trump, and will wind up in the same section of history’s dust bin as he and all the other bigots, racists and anti-Semites.

  7. West Hollywood yet again shows itself to be a fake liberal fiefdom where honest open history and discussion is suppressed when it is politically inconvenient for the Poobahs and Potentates sitting on the city council. Genuflecting to anti democratic social pressures.Lindsay Horvath and the rest should be ashamed of themselves.

    James Rosen, Proud assimilated atheist Jew who stands with “Peace Now” and “If Not Now When” against the fundamentalist interpretation of the foundations of the State of Israel. Show the Film

  8. Now I MUST see it. You actually gave the film some great PR. Do we really want to be a city that burns books and has censorship?

  9. An open letter to Councilmember Horvath and others:

    Please read some history and cite your sources before telling this respected historian (yours truly) that the Wehoville article offers reliable “background,” which it does not pretend to do, on the “1948” film,. Have you even seen the movie? This reminds me of your inane proposal that the admittedly odious candidate/now president Donald Trump not be permitted to speak in West Hollywood. If you had ever mouthed such nonsense, as I heard on the video of Monday 12/3 evening’s Council meeting, in any of my USC or Cal Arts classes I’d have had to have a serious conversation with you about intellectual freedom and openness to having one’s views challenged. Do you really have such a low opinion of West Hollywood citizens’ ability to watch a film and have a discussion? Or are you just pandering politically to pressure from those who self-righteously claim to speak for “community” without regard for a fair assessment of a film which may or may not be historically accurate? Let us see it and test it for its version of history. And who do you think you are to intervene, as reported in Wehoville, with UCLA programs, interfering with an open exchange of ideas (some of which may indeed be offensive)? This anti-intellectualism fits shamefully right in with the Trumpian world view and modus operandi. It’s none of your business to give us constituents “trigger warnings” or engage in a priori censorship. And please spare me the “Israel Right or Wrong” simplicity, as I defend Israel’s right to exist withhout excusing its abuse of Palestinians while rejecting this banal idea that any criticism of Israel fuels anti-Semitism. There is an unholy marriage here in the USA of the radical, eschatological “Christian” essentially anti-semitic Right (awaiting the Second Coming in which by their creed Jews will be given one last chance to “convert”) and some Jews and Gentiles who a-historically refuse to allow a proper historical discussion of the Palestinian issue to happen. Everybody in this conversation needs to get back to reading Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward Said, and Hannah Arendt, among others.

    Happy Hannukah!

    Ty Geltmaker, PhD.

  10. This film sounds very important. As US taxpayers providing funding and a UN Security Council veto that enables the systematic denial of human rights to Palestinians  — including racist settlements that steal more and more land in violation the Geneva Convention and a denial of the right to return — we have an obligation to open our eyes to reality.

    Palestinians neither have equal rights in Israel, nor do they have self determination in Gaza or the West Bank. Israel has factually prevented Palestine’s right to exist. Where’s the criticism of that?

    Also of note, given it is a government official calling to hold off on the film and panel (which could result in a de facto cancellation), this sounds like viewpoint based discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.

    Anti-Semitism is atrocious and wrong. Using false accusations of anti-Semitism as an excuse to censor human rights abuses is also wrong.

  11. As the City has now announced that the screening will be set for a later date I think it is difficult for our City to pull the plug and retain any credibility. The folks at City Hall who scheduled this film had to be aware that the very issue is going to be an emotionally charged topic given our demographics. But no one is being forced to see this film.

    The film needs to be judged on its’ merits not on hearsay or political posturing by Council members. To cancel the screening under pressure is simply a form of censorship.

    I would suggest that the panel discussion be opened up to include local leaders such as the highly respected Rabbi Eger so that the audience can hear a stimulating and balanced exchange on the movie and its’ historical assertions. While nobody wants to give hate a platform, we are entitled to be intellectually challenged about our world assumptions and if screening this film does that then the City has accomplished its’ goal.

    In all due respect, West Hollywood is a pretty sophisticated community and if this film is nothing but anti-Semitic drivel we will recognize it as such.

  12. This article itself is strikingly unbalanced. There’s not a single quote from anyone involved in making the film, in scheduling it or in fabor of showing it. It’s a completely one-sided article.

    1. Seems a perfect opportunity for discussion in this small community for it reflects on the press, the filmmakers, city government, religious leaders and garden variety citizens of West Hollywood. It would be helpful if previously unheard from citizens had an opportunity to ask questions or present ideas without being drowned out by the usual “Me, Myself and I” personalities among us.

    2. Dear Rabbi

      The Israelis have been given a far bigger platform which they have been lying all this time. The mainstream media is controlled by none other than the Zionist itself. This film represents Palestinian rights to be known throughout the world on the struggle they go through each day of their lives for over 72 years.

      The more Zionist try to control and silence the truth, the more people will get interested to find the truth other than believing on the lies of the mainstream media.

  13. Talk about freedom of speech in West Hollywood. What a joke this place is. Creative city? The WEHO city hall cabal will start censoring what’s playing in the theatres they ow. And who is Lindsay Horvath anyway? What are her qualifications? I thought she was going to get an appointment from the California governor elect. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and she is running again for City Council. I will be rushing to see the documentary or find out if it’s streaming online. Why would I ever schlep over to the City Hall headquarters to watch it?

  14. An early mentor, a Methodist minister, Stan Grauel, was the UN observer posted to the ship known as Exodus 1947, as it attempted to deliver hundreds of Jewish holocast survivors to the newly crated Israeli state. The hopeful refugees were beaten back by the British who still retained control over Palestine, as the entire region was once designated. Stan had always said that it was another unhappy arrangement whereby politicians had drawn the lines for the establishment of countries in that part of the world and there would never be any resolution until humanity could recognized and salute its many divisions of belief. If the film is to be regarded as propaganda promoting hatred, then it should be shelved. If it is simply presenting another view of an historical event, it should be available for viewing. The only problem is, as Stan noted, humans would rather hate than love, fight than discuss. The long history of Jewish oppression must seek an end, but the sensitivity of Jews to presentations such as this film is certainly understandable.

  15. None of the decision makers have seen the film or met Professor Muhtaseb. Not one of them. Also, I am the event producer for this project, so I have some insight here.

  16. Questions: Have any of the decision makers here David Wilson, Lindsey Horvath, Tyler Gregory or Rabbi Eger even seen this film that they are proposing to prevent from being seen by others or are they speculating based on other events?

    Do folks have an opportunity to make up their own minds? In this “open minded” community wouldn’t this be the place for such a discussion?

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