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Sunday, February 3, 2019

UC Irvine Sponsors Anti-Israel Film Screening

A big hat tip to Stand With Us


Once again, anti-Israel bias rules the roost at the University of California at Irvine. On January 31, 2019, three academic departments hosted a film screening of. "1948: Creation and Catastrophe", a 2017 film dedicated to the Palestinian narrative. The co-producers/co-directors who appeared to present the film are Andy Trimlett and Ahlam Muhtaseb, professor of film studies at California State University at San Bernardino.  Here is the UCI announcement of the event, hosted by the School of Humanities, School of Social Sciences and the School of Social Ecology.

https://www.humanities.uci.edu/SOH/calendar/events.php?recid=7575&dept_code_val=all&file_name=events


This film has already stirred concern within parts of the Jewish community. In December, the city of West Hollywood postponed plans to screen the film after Jewish leaders expressed concern over its content as well as the controversy over the film's co-producer, Ahlam Muhtaseb. The film reportedly makes the claim that Israel had engaged in pre-planned ethnic cleansing of  Arabs during the 1948 war. In addition, here is an article about the film from 2017. It raises serious concerns about the film, its makers and other alleged associations with anti-Jewish elements.


Ms. Debra Glazer on behalf of Stand With Us, an organization representing the mainstream Israel perspective, sent a letter of concern to the heads of the above three departments in advance of the showing at UCI.



Office of the Dean
UC Irvine School of Humanities
4100 Humanities Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697-3375
humanitiesdean@uci.edu

Office of the Dean
UC Irvine School of Social Sciences
Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
5th Floor Dean's Suite
3151 Social Science Plaza
Irvine, CA 92697-5100

Office of the Dean
UC Irvine School of Social Ecology
5300 Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697-7050

Ladies/Gentlemen:


We are deeply disturbed by the screening of "1948: Creation and Catastrophe," sponsored by the UC Irvine School of Humanities, the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences and the UC Irvine School of Social Ecology, to be held on January 31, 2019. The screening, followed by a panel discussion featuring the film's director and producer, will take place in The Paul Merage School of Business Auditorium. This event, taking place just a few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, calls into question UC Irvine's commitment to academic integrity and respect for minority communities.

The movie's central claim is that Israel committed a systematic ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in 1948. It goes even further, using imagery and themes to insinuate that Jews committed the same crimes against Palestinians that Nazi Germany had just committed against them in the Holocaust.
Benny Morris, the leading historian on the Palestinian refugee crisis, has repeatedly stated that Israelis did not engage in systematic ethnic cleansing during the 1948 War, and that responsibility is "split among [Israel], the Palestinians and the Arab countries – with enormous responsibility lying with the Palestinians who started the conflict.” Furthermore, according to the European Union, US State Department, leading organizations in the Jewish community, and many independent experts on the issue, comparing Israelis to Nazis is a form of anti-Semitism. Showing a movie that makes such comparisons a few days following the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is particularly offensive and antithetical to UC Irvine's stated values, and demonstrates a remarkable lack of sensitivity and respect for the Jewish community.

Rabbi Denise Eger of West Hollywood, California has called this film unbalanced and nothing but anti-Israel propaganda. Tyler Gregory, the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization advancing LGBTQ equality, has stated that the film lacks the balance and nuance needed to properly engage the community regarding these issues.

We fully support academic freedom and free speech, and recognize that individuals and groups, and even university academic units, have a right to spread misinformation and bigotry on campus. Likewise, individuals and groups, and even university academic units, may choose to abuse the responsibility that comes with the grant of academic freedom. That said, we believe that as an academic institution, UC Irvine has a duty to challenge such bigotry and ensure that students are fully-informed and exposed to diverse perspectives on controversial issues.
As such, we call on you to:

1. Ensure that professors who offered this screening as a course requirement or as extra credit for their classes will do the same with another event or educational opportunity featuring viewpoints that challenge the claims made in "1948: Creation and Catastrophe".
2. Publicly condemn the anti-Semitic content and timing of the screening.
3. Take steps to ensure that students and interested members of the public are given the opportunity to hear from a variety of perspectives on controversial issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We look forward to hearing from you about these important issues of academic integrity and respect for diverse and minority communities at UC Irvine.

Sincerely, 
Debra G. Glazer, Esq.
Orange County Representative of StandWithUs


StandWithUs is an international, non-profit Israel education organization

cc: Office of the Dean
The Paul Merage School of Business
4293 Pereira Drive
Irvine, CA 92697


cc:  Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
515 Aldrich Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-1000-25


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Below is the response she received from Bill Maurer, Dean of Social Sciences:


From: Bill Maurerwmmaurer@uci.edu
Date: Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 11:56 AM
Subject: Re: Your sponsorship of Film Screening- 1948: Creation and Catastrophe
To: Debra Glazer 
Cc: humanitiesdean@uci.edu, nguerra1@uci.eduDean@merage.uci.edu, mchurlon@uci.edu, dhaynes@uci.edu, inclusion@uci.edu

Dear Ms. Glazer,

Thank you very much for contacting us with your concerns about our screening of the film, “1948: Creation and Catastrophe.” We truly do appreciate and value your outreach and your perspective. As you know, the university goes to great lengths to ensure that it can provide a forum for the discussion of controversial and difficult topics about which people of good will will disagree. It also has a commitment to free expression and academic freedom. Whenever the campus leadership agrees to host events that will tap into longstanding and strong disagreement, we do so only when we know that we can demonstrate other programming across the university that will represent other views. Such is the case with this event.

We also very much appreciate your recommendation of proactive steps that we can take to address the concerns you have raised. We can assure you that the film is not being required for any class and that whenever extra credit is offered to students, there are always alternatives to participation or attendance at one or another event. We have always ensured that students and members of the public can benefit from a variety of perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or any other conflict, at UC Irvine.

Unlike some of its sister campuses, UC Irvine enjoys a robust set of relationships and academic partnerships with top Israeli institutions, including Tel Aviv University, The Technion, Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University. The campus recently hosted Stephen Smith, head of the Shoah Foundation, housed the Schusterman Visiting Israel Professorships, cohosted (sic) a year-long series of lectures with current and former Israeli supreme court justices, and our own faculty member Jeff Kopstein, an expert on the Holocaust, recently cotaught (sic) a freshmen seminar called Perspectives on Bias, Prejudice and Bigotry. My school sponsors regular student and community visits to Israel and the occupied territories through our Olive Tree Initiative, which has won national recognition and awards from both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Provost’s Initiative on Confronting Extremism, and our efforts to build Jewish and Israel Studies curriculum across several schools on campus, also represent a genuine commitment to Israel and the Jewish community.

We are also encouraged by the fact that the film includes the views of Benny Morris, whom you mention, as well as other prominent and respected historians. Given the nature of the film, we agreed to host it knowing that the film makers would attend the screening and answer audience member questions in a moderated discussion. Difficult dialogues further the educational mission of the university far better than simply screening a film without discussion, or allowing for the airing of others’ views without debate or question, or the simple utilization of the university as a soapbox. We hope that the event will provoke thoughtful, respectful and intelligent if intense dialogue.

Again, we do very much value and appreciate your message to us. We hope we have helped you better understand our perspective on why a screening of this film, with a moderated discussion with the film makers, constitutes an important opportunity for students and other to grapple with tough, complicated issues. If we can model how to host and conduct a difficult debate, we think we will have succeeded.

Sincerely yours,
Bill Maurer, Dean, Social Sciences
Nancy Guerra, Dean, Social Ecology
Tyrus Miller, Dean, Humanities
University of California, Irvine

(Emphasis mine)
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Fousesquawk comment: I highlighted three parts of the above letter for three reasons. First of all, pro-Israel speakers are generally invited and sponsored by student organizations like Students Supporting Israel and the College Republicans. When that occurs, they are routinely disrupted as this site has reported and documented over the past few years. This past fall, for the first time in years, a pro-Israel event was held without disruption-likely due to the fact that affected students filed police reports in the aftermath of  disruptions at UCI and UCLA that occurred last May. I cannot account for every Israel-related speaker that UCI may have sponsored, but I have had no experience attending or being aware of them. 

As for the above-mentioned Olive Tree Initiative, I have reported on that farce for several years now. In my view, it is nothing more than a thinly disguised venture to sway students to the Palestinian narrative. In addition, the OTI uses as its West Bank tour guides figures closely tied to the International Solidarity Movement. If that isn't enough, OTI had students meet with a Hamas official (Aziz Duwaik) in the West Bank during the 2009 tour, something they tried to cover up until one of the Jewish students blew the whistle. Finally, when a member of the local community filed a California Public Records Act request of UCI related to OTI, she was never furnished documents showing the expenditures of OTI, something that should have been readily available and would have possibly shown payments to the aforementioned Palestinian tour guides. 


As for the third part of Dr Maurer's response which claimed that the university wanted the avoid  the "screening a film without discussion, or allowing for the airing of others’ views without debate or question, or the simple utilization of the university as a soapbox. We hope that the event will provoke thoughtful, respectful and intelligent if intense dialogue." I would say based on the below account of the event by an audience member, the university utterly failed. In other words, it was, indeed, a soapbox presentation.




Below is a written description of the event and the film by Debra Glazer, who was present in the audience.


Debra Glazer - Summary of 1/31/19  showing of film “1948:  Creation and Catastrophe”


The event had been advertised as being sponsored by three Schools (Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Ecology). The Dean of the Law School was also thanked in Dean Maurer's (Social Sciences) introduction. It was held at the plush Merage Business School Auditorium, which is not the usual venue choice for ordinary events arranged by those Schools.

It was immediately apparent that this was not going to be a film showing just for students. A large portion of the Auditorium was reserved for special guests - appearing to be donors to UCI- who had been at a reception prior to the event. The guests looked to be mostly well-heeled adults of many backgrounds. There were perhaps 50-75 special guests (a few Arabic speaking), and around 80 others in the audience, including some students.

In his introduction, Dean Maurer gratefully acknowledged the presence of UCI donors, alumni, Board members of the Olive Tree Initiative, and Mr. Mohannad Malas, Executive Producer of the film. It so happens that Mr. Malas also serves on the Board of Trustees of the UCI Foundation, where he is listed as a Member of the School of Law Dean's Leadership Council and a Member of the Applied Innovation Advisory Board. It became apparent from the closing remarks later made by Dean Miller (Humanities) that Mr. Malas was the initiator and moving force behind bringing this entire production to the UCI community.

In addition to the specific issues raised by the film, Dean Maurer stated that the event was meant to stimulate thought about the larger issues surrounding the current refugee crises throughout the world. He said that the film causes us to reflect on our own families' histories of migration, displacement, immigration and refuge, especially given that Orange County is home to the fourth largest foreign-born population in the United States.

He announced that History Professor Mark LeVine would serve as moderator for the discussion to follow the film.

The film

Since the lights were completely dimmed, I could not take many notes during the film's showing, so I am making no claims as to the complete accuracy or thoroughness of the rough impressions below. Based on the few notes that I was able to scribble and my memory, here are a few of the questionable, deliberately misleading, incomplete, and/or false ideas and pieces of propaganda conveyed to the audience. Some of them – like colonialism, settlers, holocaust analogies- have become well-known buzzwords for calls to intifada (violence):

1. The land was settled by outsiders from Europe and Russia. The film refers to pogroms in Europe only, ignoring the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries following threats and acts of violence against these Jews. It did seem to present a sympathetic view of the Holocaust survivors who needed a home. Often refers to them as Zionist settlers, barely mentioning the fact that some Jews had already been living in the area for centuries.

2. The native population – Palestinian Arabs- saw Zionism as being in the tradition of colonialism.

3. The King David Hotel attack was mentioned – I don't recall mention of any attacks by Arabs against the British.

4. The Partition Plan voted by UN in 1947 is said to have given the Jews 56% of the land even though they were a minority of the total population. While showing the partition map (which includef the Negev desert as going to the Jewish state), the narrator states that the Jews were allotted the land most valuable for farming. This statement ignores historical accounts showing that much of the land was swampland and the obvious presence of huge desert areas.

5. President Truman was depicted as subject to intense lobbying by the Zionists. There was no mention of lobbying by the other side or by Truman's advisers in the State Department or elsewhere urging non-recognition.

6. The film stated that the Haganah had greater numbers than the local Arab militias. The fact that neighboring Arab states sent invading armies was completely downplayed, since they were really poorly equipped and badly trained as a result of the years of European colonialism. The film does mention briefly that the Jews mostly feared the Jordanian Arab Legion (but I don't recall extended mention of its participation in the battles). The film mentioned that the Jews had arms, many illicitly obtained.

7. It talks about Jews encouraging Arabs to flee for their lives, claiming that the Arabs heard that they would be massacred. No mention about the threats made by Arab leaders to “throw the Jews into the sea”. No mention of Arab leaders telling the Arab population to flee with promises of returning in victory in a few days. Does show Haifa mayor who did beg the Arabs to stay, but they didn't believe him because they saw what was happening around them. I recall no mention of the 165,000 Palestinian Arabs who choose to stay in Israel and become citizens, with almost 2 million descendants living in Israel today.

8. Usually, the film refers to attacks by the Jews to secure contiguous stretches of territory, while the other side defends. It paints Israelis as the aggressors.

9. The film seemed to spend about 15 consecutive minutes on Deir Yassin, a tragic event in the course of the War of Independence. A few minutes later it mentions, but only for about 10 seconds, the Kfar Etzion incident as being a significant defeat for the Jewish side. (The film does not call this a massacre, in which Arab forces killed the entire population of that Jewish kibbutz, with many more murdered after surrendering). Nor does the film mention the massacre of the Jewish convoy carrying more than 75 unarmed doctors, nurses, professors and students to Hadassah Hospital, which occurred just four days after Deir Yassin.

10. The film blames Jews for planting trees- mostly pine forests- claiming that the purpose was to obliterate the remains of Arab villages.

11. The film accuses some Holocaust survivors of coming straight off the boats and into the houses from which the Arabs were displaced

12. The narration makes the broad historical claim that after most wars refugees return home. In this case, however, it alleges that the Jews purposely prevented return so as to secure their Jewish state.

13. The film acknowledges that by the time the War had ended, 1% of the Jewish population in Israel had been killed, but 3 times that number (not percentage) on the other side.

14. There were no oral history interviews with Jewish survivors of Arab atrocities, massacres or battles of the period other than with Jewish participants (combatants) showing remorse for what they had done. But there were plenty of oral history interviews with Deir Yassin and other Arab battle survivors.

15. The Israelis renamed the destroyed Arab villages with Hebrew names that were meant to sound similar to the prior Arab names, as if the Jewish villages had been in existence since Roman era times.

16. The idea behind this film was obviously an imitation of the extensive efforts to preserve the memories of Holocaust survivors. And eerily, there is much emphasis placed on shoes – the Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes without even the time to put on their shoes, invoking the Yad Va'shem display of children's shoes. The narration does not say that the Jews were acting as Nazis, but there is at least one Jewish combatant in the film who wonders whether the conduct of the Jews was similar to what they had just endured under the Nazis. One survivor claimed that Jewish troops forced them to burn the bodies of babies in baking ovens. I had never heard or read about this particular claim before.

17. When the Jews are shown shooting, sound effects have been added. When the Arab side shoots, there is no sound. The effect is clearly to villainize one side.

18. There is a mention or interview with a relative of Haj Amin al-Husseini, who is identified as the Grand Mufti. But there is no mention of the Mufti's association with Hitler or of the fact that such association might have led the Jews to believe that they would be subject to a second extermination effort, this time by the Palestinian Arabs.


The post film discussion  featured the directors/producers Andy Trimlett and Ahlam Muhtaseb, with Professor Mark LeVine moderating.

Written questions were collected in advance. The entire Q&A was quite short, probably only about 40 minutes. In fact, it seemed that something unexpected may have happened because the Q&A appeared to have been abruptly cut short, with the Humanities Dean suddenly coming up to stage to conclude the proceedings.

LeVine started by saying that this “amazing film” demonstrates an excellent use of visual media for purposes of conveying so much historical information. It shows the way that scholars and film-makers can come together to create knowledge based on archival research, documents, and oral histories. These sorts of projects have the same validity and intellectual force as the written word. Given changing culture, this use of media, together with arts and music, are likely to be seen more frequently in future scholarship. Then he invited the directors/co-producers to share a few thoughts.

A question was posed about the editing process and how they went about processing and selecting the materials to be included. Muhtaseb said that the film was an 11-year project, and that the project is still evolving. Extensive archival and literature reviews were undertaken in connection with making the film, in addition to the many oral history interviews and interviews with historians.

Trimlett said that his goal was to produce a film that would let his neighbors understand what had happened and why this conflict has been going on for so long. Although he holds a Masters Degree in Middle East Studies, he never really understood the conflict until he realized that the key was the crucial year 1948, and everything else ---including the present situation involving home demolitions, the wall, the checkpoints--- stems from that. [Note that, as part of the present situation, he failed to mention terrorism,  or the constant refusal by the Arab side to recognize a Jewish presence, or their denials of Jewish historical connection to the land.]

Muhtaseb said that the film originally devoted very little time to Deir Yassin since they had not been able to locate survivors. But miraculously she found two living in the San Diego area. They found 3 Israelis still living, but only 1 was available. This required renewed work shooting the film and took an additional eight months or so.

The next question referred by analogy to the treatment of Native Americans, and asked whether we are ready to leave our homes in southern California to return them to dispossessed people. LeVine paired this with a question mentioning the Armenian genocide and other instances of ethnic cleansing, but there was no elaboration as to those. LeVine agreed that we are all settlers on Native lands. Is this the natural way of history, or is this a moral wrong to be rectified? Muhtaseb answered that she always acknowledges that we are sitting on indigenous land (although she failed to do so until prompted by this very question). She said that her answer to the question would take all night and into tomorrow - it was an excellent point and complicated.

She then proceeded to explain that she views her goal to be to “de-colonize knowledge”. Through her work in media studies, she aims to become an active agent in decolonizing knowledge and its impact on society.

She has her own personal solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but she chose not to share it.

She said that making alliances with others is important.

Trimlett agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is very similar to the US-Native American situation.

He said he chose to end the film with a question, not an answer. It's not his job to come up with a solution. The film ends with a male (his name was not shown during this particular segment) asking a question to the effect: If the establishment of the state of Israel was a historic wrong, then the question now arises, how does one redress this wrong?”

Trimlett said that we cannot move towards peace unless politicians are pushed to do so. People have to push the politicians to strive for peace. But first, the people need to understand what happened. And that was his goal with the film.

Muhtaseb mentioned that they intend to load much of the film material as well as additional materials onto the website 1948movie.com.

Very soon thereafter, the Dean of Humanities suddenly appeared on stage to close out the evening. He called it a “remarkable film”, and noted that UCI was so pleased to have been able to show the film as well as to host a discussion with both film-makers. He thanked Mr. Mohannad Malas for initiating the presentation at UCI and for being responsible for making the event happen.

*** End of report by viewer of the film


Observations:

By all appearances, this was a fund-raising event for UCI, brought to fruition by Mr. Mohannad Malas, taking advantage of his position on the UCI Foundation Board of Trustees to showcase the film for which he is Executive Producer. 

Based on quick internet searches, it appears that Mr. Malas
* Has supported Jewish Voice for Peace (Mohannad Malas @Lagunadude 27 Dec 2016 More I just supported Jewish Voice for Peace. Will you join me? http://bit.ly/1GLz1Kh via @jvplive)
* Tweeted on 24 November 2014 "Israel builds new synagogues beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque.

As to Mark LeVine, he is an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace, for which he serves as an Academic Advisory Council member.

Here, as just one example in LeVine's anti-Zionist career, is his open letter urging Carlos Santana not to perform in Israel:


A film showing, with moderated discussion such as occurred here (with all present holding basically the same anti-Zionist position), is not really an academic enterprise meant to engender serious academic or intellectual growth. It was one-sided, with nobody on the other side to challenge assertions or assumptions made, to help the audience see the weaknesses or strengths of the various positions, to place them in proper context, and so forth. There was no Jewish or Israeli mainstream narrative offered that would oppose the “facts” proffered by the film or its makers.

A major problem is that it is extremely doubtful that three or four academic Schools within the University would collectively sponsor an event as one-sided for the Zionist position as this one was for the anti-Zionist position. But, at a bare minimum, we should consider demanding programming from a clear Zionist perspective and see the university's response.

It is generally the case that the only pro-Israel events featuring Israelis or topics related to Israel or its history or culture are held by student clubs, not academic units, and that most of them are allowed to be disrupted.  These events are not widely publicized, they don't offer credit or extra credit, they are low budget, neither Deans nor professors show up or show their support, and they don't have the imprimatur of the university. And for all these reasons, as well as because they are likely to be disrupted by loud and vicious protests requiring audience members to be escorted out by the UCI Police, they are sparsely attended. [As a side matter, this past fall, for the first time in years, a student club event featuring Israelis occurred without incident, perhaps because criminal reports had been filed after a disruption at UCI the prior May.  However, the Orange County DA has referred the matter back to the University for further information, and the University reports that it is still -8 months later -- investigating the May incident.]

This film now has the uncritical imprimatur of being a featured event at the University of California, which should give a huge boost to its being able to be shown in an ever increasing number of venues.

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Fousesquawk comment: In the interest of fairness, I myself did not attend the event, nor have I seen this film. However, it seems obvious to me that UC Irvine, through their Schools of Humanities, Social Sciences, Social Ecology-and their law school, have placed their imprimatur on the Palestinian narrative. And what a hoot that the "moderator" was UCI professor Mark LeVine, who has spoken at more anti-Israel events that he or I could count. Yet he took great offense a few years back when I called him an "anti-Israel activist". He even implied to me in a profanity-laced outburst in front of his own students that I could be sued. The facts are that LeVine writes columns against Israel for Al Jazeera and is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Enough said about the choice of moderator. I would also like to say a word about the issue of audience members having to submit written questions to the front for selection. This is nothing more than a tactic to screen questions and read the ones they want to address while discarding or ignoring critical questions.

So will these UCI entities be even-handed and sponsor an alternative point of view for their students and assorted audiences? That remains to be seen. I will continue to follow this story, which is far from over.





3 comments:

Squid said...

Thanks Gary, for a very well presented expose’ on the anti-Sematism at UCI. The various UCI Departments and Administrators try to put lipstick on the anti-Semitic pig, but the informed observers see right through the anti-Semitism. This presentation was designed to bring in more, well healed founders to fill the coffers of UCI. But, it is age old, to destroy a culture in the name of value added cash. Bottom line, Jewish students need not apply to UCI.

Gary Fouse said...

I could not agree more. Dennis Prager is speaking for the Coollege Republicans tomorrow night. I won't be there, but I hope this issue is addressed.

Gary Fouse said...

I could not agree more. Dennis Prager is speaking for the Coollege Republicans tomorrow night. I won't be there, but I hope this issue is addressed.