To heal post-Rachel rift, federation needs a new policy

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The ad from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation in the Sept. 16 j. was commendable in acknowledging the egregious errors made by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Unfortunately, the federation did not address the crucial issue: What policy will the federation put in place to ensure that our donations will never again be used to help fund events that are organized in collaboration with extremist groups that support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel?

The federation urged the SFJFF to “adopt new policies and procedures to ensure that the specific problems associated with the ‘Rachel’ event do not happen again, including policies addressing choice of co-presenters and speakers.”

Abraham D. Sofaer

Yet the federation itself has no policy to deal with the strong likelihood that the film festival will ignore the federation’s suggestions and continue to work in conjunction with extreme anti-Israel groups.

The federation appropriately stated that it would not offer financial support to organizations that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel; however, it has refused so far to explicitly ban giving its funds to organizations that partner in their events with those that advocate BDS.

While the SFJFF does not directly support boycotts, divestment and sanctions, some film festival events are presented in conjunction with extreme groups that do actively advocate BDS against Israel, such as the Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee.

The federation statement does nothing to prevent federation funds from being used in the future by the film festival (or any other organization) for defamatory anti-Israel events, such as the Corrie debacle.

Zvi Alon

Unfortunately, despite widespread community outrage and urging from the federation, the film festival chose not to institute any policy banning collaboration with groups that advocate BDS against Israel.

Indeed, the recent SFJFF open letter to the community revealed that Peter Stein, the festival director, learned very little from the Corrie fiasco. He showed no remorse for collaborating with extreme anti-Israel groups (JVP and AFSC) or for presenting the Corrie event, which demonized Israel and glorified the pro-Hamas International Solidarity Movement.

Five moderate board members of the film festival resigned after the publication of the festival’s woefully inadequate letter. Tellingly, one of the remaining dominant festival board members is Rachel Pfeffer, the former acting national director of the misleadingly named Jewish Voice for Peace. The JVP, which has been collaborating with the film festival in its events, incessantly calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

These BDSes are tools of the larger anti-Israel campaign first begun by the Arab states and Iran, and now parroted by the far left and extreme right, to delegitimize and then to destroy Israel as a Jewish state.

By virtue of its ongoing support of the film festival (the federation has not asked that its name be removed as a “major supporter” from SFJFF’s Web site), the federation is inadvertently but effectively legitimizing the co-presenting anti-Israel extremist groups and their views.

Our community has become infamous in the Jewish world as being in the vanguard of American Jews abandoning Israel. In Daniel Gordis’ Oct. 15 op-ed in the Jerusalem Post about such abandonment, he lists as a prime example the San Francisco Jewish community’s funding of a film festival that partners with extreme anti-Israel groups such as the JVP to show an “Israel-bashing ‘documentary.’ ”

Is this what we want our community to be known for?

It is time to make it unambiguously clear that our Jewish federation will not support events or organizations that demonize or defame Israel. Nor will it support organizations that partner in their events with individuals or groups that call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The S.F. Jewish Film Festival is free to collaborate with whomever it chooses and co-present all the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic events that its board irresponsibly allows.

However, our donations to mainstream Jewish organizations, such as the federation, should never help pay for — and thus legitimize — such defamatory and destructive events.

Adopting this common-sense policy will assure people donating to the federation that their contributions will be used wisely, and indeed will strengthen the federation and the community. It will not only put this issue behind us, but it will prevent similar issues from causing discord to our community in the future.

Failure to adopt such a policy will leave a cloud over the entire donation-allocation process and almost certainly guarantee future discord.

Abraham D. Sofaer of Palo Alto served as legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State from 1985 to 1990 and is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Zvi Alon of Los Altos Hills is the founder of NetManage in Cupertino and the founder and chairman of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce and of Israel 21c. They co-authored this piece with Sanford N. Diller of Woodside, the CEO of the San Mateo–based Prometheus Real Estate Group. Diller did not want his photo included.