Mideast film fest panel spurs local crisis

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A panel taking place next week in conjunction with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is causing a bit of distress in the community.

Titled "In Search of Peace: Voices From the Peace Camp," the panel has only left-wing voices and a left-wing moderator.

The festival claims the public is besieged with moderate to right-wing views in the daily newspapers, and the voices on the left are rarely heard.

In fact, newspaper readers often don't get an accurate picture of Israel — either from the left or right. Headlines and photos often make Palestinians look like victims. The explanation for Israel's actions is often buried or not included.

Although festival organizers may take issue with Israel's policies, they're doing a disservice to the community by not inviting other points of view into the dialogue.

We appreciate the festival's efforts to retain its independence and artistic freedom. We understand the revulsion organizers feel when one of their sponsors tries to dictate content.

But the festival over the years has failed to understand its responsibility to better inform its audience by including varying voices in the discussion.

As Israel's local representative, the consul general had both the right and responsibility to ask that the panel include a more centrist voice. Israel's foreign minister sent him here to help convey a better understanding of his government's positions. By taking issue with the festival, he was doing his job.

However, protesting the panel by withdrawing sponsorship from the festival may have been too extreme a step. The festival has long included a number of high-quality Israeli films and this year is no exception. In fact, the consulate's cultural attaché recommended many of them. Surely the consul general would want to ensure that area audiences see them.

Expressing his point of view was called for — even necessary — and the film festival was obliged to listen. But it's unfortunate that neither side made an effort to compromise.

In the midst of a Mideast crisis, it is equally sad that the festival and the consul general reached such an impasse here. Hopefully, next year such controversies can be avoided and the festival will strive to ensure greater balance in its discussions.