Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow explore how American Jews view Israel in Between Two Worlds
Deborah Kaufman What we saw at the festival during the Rachel uproar was a collapse of the center. It was really a moment when the extremes were at battle and the center simply disappeared. That's what was and is so disturbing. A kind of apathy where the moderates just throw up their hands and walk away from what's become a very toxic debate.
Alan Snitow It's not that the Bay Area is unique to boo a so-called "pro-Israel" speaker [like Harris]. It's that the Bay Area has maintained an open debate about Israeli policies when other Jewish communities never countenanced such debate from the get-go. Rachel was not shown in other Jewish film festivals around the country because they are already creatures of conservative donors. The aim in this power grab by the right in San Francisco was and is to silence people and institutions like the festival that oppose a McCarthyite crackdown in a remaining bastion of free speech. And this is being mirrored in Israel itself where the Knesset recently passed a law punishing anyone who publicly supports the idea of a boycott of the West Bank settlements.
I think we also have to question this claim of "pro-Israel." All criticism of Israel's occupation is now being branded as "anti-Israel." "Pro-Israel" has come to mean pro the policies of the current, most right-wing government in Israeli history — a government that is now advocating the truly Orwellian position that there is no occupation at all! That's not what pro-Israel or Zionist ever meant except to some ideologues on the far right.
SFBG Had you already been thinking about somehow addressing political rifts in the Jewish community before the SFJFF fracas?
DK We began the film over a year before the SFJFF fracas. We were focusing more on Jewish identity than politics — looking at intermarriage, hybrid identities, a new generation of American Jews — we wanted to re-tell the Biblical story of Ruth, and we were following a fantastic feminist-queer internet discussion called "Rabbis: Out Of My Uterus!" that we thought would be fun to film. But we kept getting swept into the Israel vortex and realized we had to address the question of dissent and who speaks for the Jewish community at this historical moment for the film to be relevant.
Between Two Worlds opens Fri/5 at the Roxie.