James Gelvin, a history professor at UCLA, dismissed concerns of the lack of pro-Israel voices during a panel discussion inside the West Hollywood City Council Chambers on April 16, asking if it would be required for there to be a panel defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions.
Gelvin was on a panel discussing the anti-Israel film “1948,” which was shown earlier in the evening in the city council chambers to nearly 165 attendees; also on the panel were UCLA History Professor Robin Kelley and USC Journalism Professor Sandy Tolan. The panel was moderated by Estee Chandler, the founding organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace Los Angeles and host of the KPFK “Middle East in Focus” radio program.
In response to a written question from the audience regarding balance, Gelvin brought up how, during an April 1 West Hollywood City Council meeting, audience members accused the pending panel of having an anti-Israel bias.
“In the last two years, I’ve written 35 articles – mostly on Saudi Arabia and Syria – and not one on Israel,” Gelvin said. “We don’t pick on Israel particularly. When Israel does what’s wrong, we call them out for it. But we don’t really feel the need to balance Israel any more than we feel the need to balance out our talks about, for example, Saudi Arabia and Syria.”
Gelvin added, “Can you imagine that there would be another panel discussion if this was on Syria, that we would have another panel discussion afterwards in defense of Bashar al-Assad and in defense of what the Russians did to the city of Aleppo, for example?”
Gelvin did acknowledge that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is “a very, very distinct thing.”
The “1948” film portrays Israeli Jews as “war criminals and monsters, creating ill will and potentially putting Jews and supporters of Israel in danger,” Debra Glazer, Orange County representative for StandWithUs, told the Journal in February after seeing the film in UC Irvine on Jan. 31. Gelvin and the rest of the panel downplayed criticisms of the film being anti-Semitic. Kelley said he didn’t want “to deny the pervasive existence of anti-Semitism” but said that “oftentimes white nationalists are pro-Israel” and “many of the charges of anti-Semitism are coming from a place of power where there are consequences from those kinds of claims.”
In response to a question from the audience about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Gelvin said that he “recently moved to a full support of BDS” because he didn’t think that a two-state solution is possible since he thinks that the Israeli government will eventually annex communities in Judea and Samaria. Tolan said he supported the First Amendment rights of the BDS movement and Kelley said he viewed BDS as a “successful, effective, nonviolent form of civil disobedience,” expressing opposition to anti-BDS laws.
Sean Siegel, an alumnus of Students Supporting Israel who helped organize a protest against the screening of the film and attended the panel discussion, told the Journal, “The panel itself [was] completely one-sided and the questions that were asked… were completely one-sided. So no one who supported Israel had their point of view to be heard.”
Before the movie screening, city councilman John Heilman told the audience that the city council was looking into hosting a pro-Israel panel sometime in May.
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