How did a left-wing documentarian and instructor at New York University find himself banned from an international film conference? Because of his Israeli citizenship, it appears, and the subject matter of his latest film – The Settlers.
A veteran filmmaker and faculty member at NYU, Shimon Dotan’s latest release is, to be charitable, less than sympathetic to population it focuses on and derives its title from.
Like Israeli television specials over the past decade including Land of the Settlers and The Next War, The Settlers largely overlooks the complexities of a diverse and dynamic population, painting the some 400,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria as a monolithic, extremist fringe at war with Israeli society.
As The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote of Dotan’s film: “[It] portrays the settlements in a negative light, and is skeptical, at the very least, toward many settlers.”
Audience members, he wrote, would be given the impression that there are rampant “terrorist acts perpetrated by Israeli settlers” and “explicit racism in the settler movement,” and a sense that an “apartheid culture” has been “created in the West Bank.”
When Dotan was invited to screen his film at an international film festival in Syracuse University, focusing on the theme of “The Place of Religion in Film”, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the film to reach a wide-audience in the US, after winning praise from The New York Times.
But despite the film’s unsympathetic portrayal of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria, Dotan received a retraction on the invitation on June 24th.
In an email to Mr. Dotan, M. Gail Hamner, a Syracuse University Department of Religion faculty member, wrote that following warnings regarding “the BDS faction on campus”, she had no choice but to withdraw the invitation, The Atlantic reported.
Hamner added that having not seen the film herself, she was unable to “vouch for it”, and would “lose credibility” if she permitted it to be shown.
In her disinvite, Hamner wrote that she had been told “point blank that if I have not myself seen your film and cannot myself vouch for it to the Council, I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues. Sadly, I have not had the chance to see your film and can only vouch for it through my friend and through published reviews.”
Yet, as Dotan pointed out in correspondence with a colleague neither Hamner nor any other Syracuse University faculty member requested the film for screening.
“Hamner rejected the idea of inviting the film without seeing it! She didn't even ask to see it. All she was concerned about is that BDS activists may not be happy with the screening of an Israeli film at Syracuse. That is really troubling. And that happens at a University, at a temple of freedom of speech, or so we want to believe.”