Documentary aims to awaken, alarm
A collaboration of community organizations will screen a film that tackles an incendiary subject.
“Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus” is scheduled for screening at the Katz Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Tuesday, July 18 at 7 p.m.
The 62-minute documentary, which was written, directed and produced by Ralph Avi Goldwasser, a co-founder and former executive director of the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group on campus, highlights the demonization of Israel at institutions of higher learning.
“Personally, I feel that what’s going on on college campuses today, and most often in the West, Northeast and Midwest, is the largest greatest threat to Judaism in the Unites States since World War II,” said Stuart Pavilack, executive director of ZOA: Pittsburgh.
Pavilack, along with representatives of both ZOA: Pittsburgh and the Jewish National Fund, were instrumental in arranging the viewing.
“We felt that it’s very important to the community and to Jewish America,” noted Pavilack.
Such sentiment is understood shortly into the documentary. By combining news and cellphone footage, publication headlines and interviews conducted, Goldwasser offers an alarming portrayal of campus life. For students, largely on both coasts, invasive experiences, such as receiving mock-eviction notices beneath dorm room doors, intimidation from fellow students or faculty and even episodes of physical violence, are described as almost regular occurrences to contemporary Jewish students.
Also occupying significant coverage is a review of Students for Justice in Palestine and its web of connections. SJP, an anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian national organization, has often called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel; and, according to Goldwasser, the group has used its cause to increase “hostility” toward Jewish students on college campuses.
Substantiating such assessment are interviews with Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice, and William Jacobson, clinical professor at the Cornell Law School and publisher of the Legal Insurrection website.
Throughout the documentary, other talking heads include Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University, Richard Landes of Boston University, Bret Stephens, now of The New York Times and Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post.
Because of the material and claims made, the film’s subject matter is deeply disturbing. That Jewish students are experiencing persecution anywhere near the vileness of pre-War Nazi Germany (an assertion made by the documentary) is a concern that should seemingly resonate with viewers.
Nonetheless, also troubling is that the film spends little time proposing solutions to such threats. Just shy of 10 minutes before the close do viewers finally discover strategies for resistance or tactics.
“I think we will see an increase in the use of the law to try to combat this kind of double-standard bigotry that we see on university campuses,” said Dershowitz. “We have to do more, we have to fight harder. Ultimately, we have to rely on truth. Truth is our best friend because the facts are on our side; morality is on our side; history is on our side.”
As admirable as the public intellectual’s remarks are, for those interested in a more holistic assessment of the subject, the disproportionate focus on background as opposed to prescriptions for countering the problem makes “Hate Spaces” an unbalanced film.
Nonetheless, even without a thoughtful presentation of forward-thinking strategies, there is merit in the piece, as evidenced by the large number of community organizations and congregations that have co-sponsored the July 18 showing, including Adat Shalom, Beth El Congregation, Beth Hamedrash Hagodol/Beth Jacob, Chabad on Campus-Pittsburgh, Classrooms Without Borders, Congregation Ahavath Achim, Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation Poale Zedek, Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh, Israel Bonds, the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, NA’AMAT USA Pittsburgh Council, New Light Congregation, Temple Emanuel, Temple Sinai and the Young Peoples Synagogue.
The sizable list is because “we felt that we wanted to have as many individuals and organizations involved as possible,” said Pavilack.
Also important to recognize is that Pittsburgh has largely evaded much of the deplorable activities portrayed in the documentary, noted local leaders.
“We’ve been somewhat immune to this in Pittsburgh; it’s nothing like the level we’ve seen elsewhere,” said Pavilack.
Dan Marcus, executive director and CEO of Hillel Jewish University Center, agreed.
“It’s important for our community to be aware of Jewish students’ experiences on campus. In Pittsburgh, we are fortunate that we have university partners who are both aware and supportive when issues occur that are distressing to Jewish campus life.”
>>Registration for the July 18 (7 p.m.) showing of “Hate Spaces” at the Katz Theatre at the Squirrel Hill JCC can be made by contacting ZOA executive director Stuart Pavilack at 412-665-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Preregistration is $4. At-the-door registration is $8. Following the film, there will be a question-and-answer session with Avi Goldwasser, who, with Americans for Peace & Tolerance, produced “Hate Spaces.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.