Time to stop the war of words over Rachel

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s weekend presentation of the film “Rachel” has unleashed a storm of vitriol in the Bay Area Jewish community. We think it’s time for this family feud to end.

“Rachel” tells the story of Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed in Gaza six years ago when she was trying to block the demolition of a home Israel claimed was illegally built. In addition to screening the film, the festival invited Corrie’s mother, Cindy Corrie, to speak afterwards.

This proved too much for some in the Jewish community, who see the Corries — and the organizations they support — as stridently anti-Israel. Angry letters and threats of festival boycotts have ensued. The festival’s board president, Shana Penn, resigned over the way the event was handled.

On the other side, supporters of the Corries also wrote angry letters. With tempers flaring, festival director Peter Stein apologized for failing to anticipate just how polarizing this event would be. We do wish organizers had had more foresight.

Stein also tried to make amends by scheduling a local, pro-Israel activist to speak before the film, thus providing balance to the program. But for those opposed to the film or the Corrie appearance, it’s too little, too late.

Not that the festival should shy away from controversy, but we expect in the future Stein and the festival board will be more circumspect when contemplating programming.

 The festival receives funding from Jewish institutions, many of them mainstream. Given that, the concerns of the entire Jewish community should be factored in when certain decisions are made.

The S.F. Jewish Film Festival remains a vital and important institution, and deserves continued support. Threats to boycott the festival ultimately only hurt the Jewish community itself.

With 71 films on this year’s schedule, including many of them positive about Israeli society, it is not fair to write off the entire festival over one film, especially when organizers have shown they hear the concerns of the critics.

Thus, we still urge the community to support the SFJFF by attending, even if some choose to skip “Rachel.”

We also urge both sides of this divide to tone down the rhetoric, to recognize we are all members of the Jewish family, and that while disagreements may be inevitable, they need not devolve to the level of a schoolyard brawl.