Pennsylvania film institute court ordered to screen Israeli movie initially cancelled after anti-Israel protests

The film institute claimed that it initially canceled the screening ‘due to concern for public safety.’

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

A film institute in Pennsylvania was forced by court order to screen a documentary as part of the 28th annual Israeli Film Festival (IFF) of Philadelphia, after initially cancelling the screening following pressure from a pro-Palestinian group.

The IFF announced on Tuesday it filed for and was granted a court order earlier in the day that required the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (BMFI) in Bryn Mawr, Penn., “to meet its commitment to the festival and the community, and proceed with the screening as planned.”

“IFF’s mission and mandate is to connect all of us through the beauty, vibrance, humor, history, and soul that shine throughout Israelis’ unforgettable films. For 28 seasons, we’ve shared these wonderful dramas, documentaries, and comedies and are deeply proud of the impact they’ve had in bringing people together,” the film festival said. “The show must (AND WILL) go on.”

BMFI is among a number of venues screening select films as part of the festival, which began on April 6 and will continue through Sunday. The controversy surrounded the institute’s screening on Tuesday of The Child Within Me, a documentary about Israeli musician Yehuda Poliker

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The Philly Palestine Coalition on Monday began a petition that demanded the cancellation of the film festival, which is co-sponsored by Israel Bonds, the Consulate General of Israel, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pennsylvania.

The pro-Palestinian group falsely claimed that Israel Bonds “finances the Israeli government’s budget” and “directly contributes to the displacement of Palestinians, the expansion of unlawful settlements, and unchecked settler violence.”

The petition also falsely accused the state of Israel of genocide, apartheid, and occupation in its treatment of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Israel Bonds website, proceeds from the sale of bonds have contributed to Israel’s growth in high-tech, cleantech, and biotech.

Capital from Israel bonds have also “helped strengthen every aspect of Israel’s economy, enabling national infrastructure development … [and] expanded transportation networks enabled by investments in Israel bonds help facilitate shipment of ‘Made in Israel’ technology around the world, enhancing national export growth.”

Soon after facing pressure from the Philly Palestine Coalition, the BMFI announced on Monday it pulled the screening of The Child Within Me — a day before the scheduled event.

“Bryn Mawr Film Institute is not a political organization. We don’t endorse or oppose any causes,” the BMFI said in a released statement.

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“In past years, we have not regarded hosting a screening from the Israeli Film Festival as a political partnership or taking a stance on any issues. This was our feeling when we arranged the 2024 screening many months ago. However, as the situation in Israel and Gaza has developed, it has become clear that our showing this movie is being widely taken among individuals and institutions in our community as an endorsement of Israel’s recent and ongoing actions. This is not a statement we intended or wish to make.”

“BMFI is a safe place for civil and nuanced conversations about diverse stories,” the film institute added.

“For the well-being and safety of all patrons, BMFI will not be a location for anger and violence. For those who wish to partake in an IFF screening, there are upcoming screenings at other venues.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Anti-Defamation League’s chapter in Philadelphia were outraged by the move. They urged the BMFI to immediately reverse its decision to cancel the screening.

“Although BMFI states that this decision was made in an attempt to avoid controversy, this action only serves to blacklist Israeli culture, playing into the hands of antisemites who try to deny the Jewish people their voice and existence,” the two Jewish organizations said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

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“The IFF intentionally offers a multifaceted view of Israeli society. Each season, carefully curated feature films and documentaries provide glimpses into the intricate tapestry of Israeli life, allowing audiences to form their own informed opinions … Let us celebrate cultural diversity, promote dialogue, and recognize the transformative power of film in connecting us all.”

Following the court order, the BMFI posted another statement on its website, this time confirming the screening of The Child Within Me.

It also admitted that it “handled all of this very badly” and claimed that it initially cancelled the screening “due to concern for public safety.”

“BMFI is an institution run by human beings. We are flawed and have blind spots. Sometimes we made bad calls,” the film institute added.

“We understand that our actions have hurt and offended many. That was the opposite of our intention, and we apologize for disappointing so many members of our community.”