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On Mr. McGown’s Introduction of the Palestinian Film Festival

Reader Abe Tesser, president of the Athens Jewish Film Festival, responds to a letter from Palestine advocate Jim McGown.

Athens is a city that is enriched by multiple points of view. So, I appreciate Mr. McGown’s and his use of film as a medium to further that cause.

However, his reference to the Athens Jewish Film Festival in the context of his advocacy is misleading. The missions of the two Festivals are different. The goal of the Palestinian Film Festival is advocacy of a particular point of view. Indeed, the films are selected and paid for by a Washington lobby group, the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights.

The Athens Jewish Film Festival has no political mission. It is local in origin, governance, and funding. There is no litmus test for participation and its Board includes Christians and Jews with a range of highly committed opinions on the Arab-Israeli stalemate. We try to present the best of cinema with a Jewish aspect. Sometimes that is comedy, sometimes drama, sometimes documentary. The Israeli-Palestinian situation is, of course, sometimes explored. But our basis for film selection is quality and balance, not adherence to a particular point of view. Indeed, many of the films we have screened are more sympathetic to the Palestinian side than the Israeli side. (To think that Jews or Jewish film is of one mind is, at best, naive.) In short, we are not an advocacy group.

Mr. McGown claims that the Palestinians have not had a celebration since 1948. He juxtaposes that with the celebration of Jewish culture that is an aspect of the Athens Jewish Film Festival as if there were some connection. His logic eludes me and the juxtaposition is offensive. No one that I know of, Jew or Christian, American or Israeli, takes joy in the difficulties that many Palestinians face.

In my father’s house are many rooms (John, 14:2). In that spirit, I look forward to additional screenings from the Palestinian Film Festival.

Abraham Tesser, President 
Athens Jewish Film Festival

Jim McGown April 20, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I regret having offended Mr. Tesser by juxtaposing the two Festivals. He is right about the purpose of the 2011 Palestine Film Festival—it is an attempt through the use of film to create awareness of the situation which the Palestinian people face. The Jewish Film Festival celebrates Jewish life because it can and should, and I enjoyed participating in that celebration. Perhaps that option will one day exist for the Palestinian Film Festival organizers--they will have to decide between films which celebrate, say, the olive harvest or Sufi poetry or a Dabka dance competition or an extraordinary romance. But as of now, the preoccupation is necessarily with the reality of life under occupation. I appreciate Mr Tesser’s expressions of empathy for the Palestinians and of his openmindedness. I look forward to both Festivals again next year.

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