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A SPEECH BY DR. MIKE HARRIS AT THE SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
Speech by Dr. Mike Harris at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
(prior to the viewing of the Rachel Corrie film)
 
 

My name is Michael Harris and I am one of the founders of the San Francisco Voice for Israel, a branch of StandWithUs. 

 

The Jewish Film Festival is an important cultural institution in our community. Yet, as Peter noted, this year there has been an uproar from not only our local Jewish community, but also from Jewish communities around the country and overseas, over the Film Festival’s choice of this film and speaker.


My presence here should in no way be considered as endorsing, or even adequately balancing, this event.  These few minutes cannot in any way provide an appropriate response to the next two hours.


I came here today to give voice to a different perspective—the perspective of the wider spectrum of the Bay Area and global Jewish communities, including our own community’s newspaper which voiced strong concerns about today’s program, and including the respected Taube and Koret Foundations which have expressed strong opposition to this program as being inappropriate for a Jewish Film Festival.
 
    

All of us here know that Rachel Corrie tragically died when she intentionally put herself in harm’s way during an IDF counter-terrorism operation in the Gaza Strip.  But many of us don’t know the names of other young American victims—Abigail Leitel, a 14 year old Baptist girl from New Hampshire, murdered when a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Haifa on March 5, 2003. David Gritz age 24, Benjamin Blutstein age 25 and UC Berkeley student Marla Bennett, age 24, all murdered on July 31, 2002 by a suicide bomber in the cafeteria at Hebrew University.
    

And there are Israeli Rachels. Rachel Levy, age 17, was murdered in Jerusalem on March 29, 2002 by a suicide bomber.  Rachel Thaler, age 16, died Feb 27 2002 as a result of injuries when a suicide bomber exploded himself in the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem 11 days earlier.  And there are more—too many more—Israeli Rachels.  And none of them were engaged in anything more risky than riding a bus, or going to buy a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee.  And, just as Rachel Corrie should be alive today, so should all of these young men and women.
  

They were all murdered before Rachel Corrie came to Gaza.  That’s why the young IDF soldier was operating that bulldozer in Rafah.  It wasn’t to wantonly destroy Palestinian homes.  It was to destroy the tunnels used to smuggle explosives for murdering Israelis—tunnels that even now, the so-called “Free Gaza” members proudly boast of touring and photographing. 
     

The International Solidarity Movement recruited Rachel Corrie at the height of the terror war and instructed her to ignore IDF security warnings.  You will hear that they are a peace group.  You won’t hear that ISM defined peace in a 2003 press conference as the destruction of Zionism and the Jewish State.  You will hear that ISM supports non-violence. You won’t hear that ISM collaborates with terrorists, including Hamas, and even aided the terrorists who took over the Church of the Nativity in 2002. Nor will you hear that ISM leaders called suicide bombing “noble” and that they support terrorism as  ”legitimate armed struggle.”
   

And, as ISM co-founder George Rishmawi said, “If some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” They have used Rachel’s accidental death to accuse Israel of intentionally murdering innocents.
   

You will hear Israel’s counter-terrorism measures demonized, but not why they were necessary.  You won’t hear about the organized, savage suicide bombing war that Palestinians unleashed against Israel in 2000-- a war that murdered over 1000 Israelis (mostly civilians) and wounded over 7,000 others, using bombs filled with razor blades, nails and rat poison; a war fought not for a Palestinian state that Arafat had already rejected, but against Israel's very existence.
    

And you will not hear about another foreign volunteer who was killed near Gaza.  Carlos Chavez, a 20-year-old from Ecuador, was shot in the back while he planted potato seeds at a communal farm in Israel, about 100 meters from the Gaza border.  His murder occurred on Jan. 15, 2008—2.5 years after Israel had completely withdrawn from Gaza.  His crime was simply being in the state of Israel; the same crime for which the Hamas charter threatens all Israeli Jews with death.
     

You won’t hear about the incessant, anti-Semitic incitement that pervades Palestinian media, schools, and mosques, instilling hatred of Jews, celebrating those who kill them as heroes and martyrs, and denying Israel’s very right to exist.  You won’t hear about the founding document of Hamas, which they still stand by today and which openly calls for the murder of Jews everywhere.  I have copies of excerpts from their charter right here, but it’s easy to find online. You won’t hear about the 8,000 rockets that have been launched into from Gaza into Israel, a small country just the size of New Jersey. You won’t hear about a Palestinian leadership that has failed its people miserably by using the billions they have received in foreign aid to build bombs and rockets, rather than schools and hospitals.
    

This episode should lead to some serious and thoughtful discussion about the role, and the responsibility, that a JEWISH Film Festival should take within our community.  A Jewish Film Festival should not be presenting a film and speaker that demonize Israel, and that are being co-sponsored and promoted by groups-- such as Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee-- that support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, (or, as AFSC did, host dinner for Mahmoud Ahmedinejad)—or that attracts an audience that applauds at the mention of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
    

No mother should have to bury her child—not Cindy Corrie, not Marla Bennett’s mother Linda, and not Carlos Chavez’ mother Gloria de las Mercedes.  As you watch this film and hear from Rachel’s mother, remember how much context is completely missing from the film.  Above all, remember the mothers of all the other Rachels as well, and the price they have had to pay simply for being Jews living in the only Jewish country in the world.  
Thank you very much.

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