NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – MARBLEHEAD – Despite an outcry from hundreds of North Shore and Boston Jews, including prominent religious leaders, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead will air the controversial documentary The Occupation of the American Mind this Sunday, at its Marblehead congregation.
The film, produced in part by UMass-Amherst Department of Communication Professor Sut Jhally and narrated by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, posits that Israel has “infiltrated” American media to the extent that all US media coverage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is biased, and anti-Palestinian.
The news of the planned screening was met with disappointment by some members of the Jewish community. “The movie is anti-Israel and it is one-sided,” explained Debbie Coltin, director of the Salem-based Lappin Foundation. She added that the film “promotes lies and includes conspiracy theories of the influence of Jews and Israel on the American government, finances and the media.” She compared it to “Nazi-like propaganda.”
In a privately-funded ad by local residents that appears in this week’s Journal, and in other local publications, some Jews and Christians asserted that the movie is not a well-considered examination of American media coverage of Israel; rather it is an anti-Semitic screed which presents “a factually incorrect and distorted account of the Israeli-Palestinian situation” and “lacks transparency” by omitting key facts.
The ad was signed by 158 people, including Rabbi David Meyer, Rabbi Michael Rabbi Ragozin, Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman and Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez; philanthropists Robert Lappin, Arthur Epstein and Steve Rosenthal; Christians and Jews United for Israel, and Gordon College Professor Marvin Wilson. According to Coltin, an additional 146 people also have signed on to the ad.
The movie makes vast assertions about the power of Israel to influence American opinion and alludes to a far-reaching conspiracy of anti-Palestinian reporting without evidence to back up that assertion. It lumps the “American media” into one bucket. Also, there is no mention of conflicting opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within Israel, within the US or within the American Jewish community.
The movie’s review of the history of the conflict fails to mention that Israel was invaded by its neighbors in 1948. When discussing Gaza, the film does not mention the tunnel system that alarmed Israeli security interests. Nor does it discuss the Palestinian educational curriculum – which encourages children to hate Jews and Israelis, and does not recognize Israel in any of its textbook maps.
In its flyer promoting the film, the UU asserts that “Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory have [sic] impeded the peace process and fueled condemnation of Israeli policies around the world – except in the United States.”
In an email to the Journal, UU Church of Marblehead Reverend Wendy Von Courter wrote that the film is part of the UU Church’s Meeting House Series, which “fosters an attitude of respectful inquiry, and welcomes discussion regarding each presentation.” She said that the Church’s Social Action Committee had seen the film at another event and “found it to be a good fit in our continued exploration of the road to justice for all people.” When asked whether there was opposition within the congregation, Von Courter wrote, “there is a consensus that more information is helpful.”
When questioned about concerns that the movie could be biased, Von Courter replied, “In terms of the accusations of bias, I believe they are unfortunate and run dangerously close to being seen as censorship.”
Waters, the narrator, has a history of public action against Israel. He is a vocal supporter of the BDS movement – last June he wrote an open letter to Thom Yorke of the group Radiohead, criticizing the band’s planned performance in Israel, writing: “Today is the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel.”
The professor from UMass-Amherst, Sut Jhally, is also publicly anti-Israel. His Twitter feed includes endorsements of the film, with catch phrases like, “the Zionist-white supremacist alliance.”