Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA hosted its widely advertised screening of “The Occupation of the American Mind” on Wednesday, followed by a discussion with executive producer Sut Jhally and an appearance by famed Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters. The purpose of the film is to warn viewers that somehow, unbeknownst to them, they have become casualties of Israel’s public relations war in the United States.
More specifically, “The Occupation of the American Mind” alleges that Israel manipulates the minds of politicians and ordinary Americans by turning American media outlets into well-oiled propaganda machines. By exerting their influence through the “Israel lobby in America,” conniving Zionists have managed to divert attention from “apartheid” and “genocide,” and instead, rewrite a tale of victimhood by dramatizing the storyline of Jewish oppression.
The film is an intellectualization of the centuries-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a group of powerful, manipulative and domination-obsessed Jews have gained control of politics and media through a combination of wealth, power, influence and deceit. The film asserts that through sheer mendacity and careful scheming, Jews concocted stories of suffering, when in reality, they were the true oppressors.
By choosing to screen this film, Students for Justice in Palestine has unabashedly endorsed and legitimized this perception of the Jewish people. One is left to wonder: What conclusion is the campus community left to draw from this event? Are we so distanced from the shadows of history that we are unable to detect echoes of anti-Semitic conspiracy when it is brought to our very doorstep?
The attempt to normalize anti-Semitism by conditioning it to the times is an old – and unfortunately effective – strategy. For generations, Jewish people have been accused of conspiring to control the media, the economy, the government and other social institutions. It was articulated in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the 1900s, in “Mein Kampf” in the 1920s and it is echoed in this film in 2016.
That is not to say that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Critique of Israeli policy can be legitimate and productive, and should not be conflated with prejudice. Freedom of speech, academic freedom and viewpoint neutrality are not issues that are new to our campus community. Students for Justice in Palestine has the constitutional right to screen this film – and whether we like it or not, our student fees might have been used via student government programming funds to help pay for the event.
However, rather than initiate a constructive dialogue about the role of the media in this conflict, The Occupation of the American Mind devotes its energy to flirting with and perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Our interest in writing this piece is not to silence the viewpoints put forth by the film. Rather than silencing voices, our goal is to combat “bad speech” with constructive speech. Along with their right to screen this film comes our moral responsibility to call it what it is: inflammatory, anti-Semitic propaganda.
The movie is eager to position itself as an expose of one-sided propaganda, but employs the very tactics it seeks to condemn. It is so willing to nurture dissidence that it ironically forgets to invite that very concept of debate into its own movie.
Our disappointment, however, is directed not only towards the creators of this film, but at the students who have pushed to screen it. In doing so, they have provided a platform for the legitimization of identity-based hatred that is completely out of line with our True Bruin Values and the UC Board of Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.
Brazen actions have consequences, and broadcasting a movie that perpetuates offensive perceptions of Jewish and Israeli communities does nothing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or bridge the gap between communities at UCLA. Films like this enable the normalization of anti-Semitism on our campus, and it will not go unchecked. We will not be pawns in a game of intellectual distortions.
As Bruins, we inherit the legacy of some of the greatest innovators and trailblazers in human technology and progress. If we hope to apply any bit of that ingenuity to this conflict that is thousands of miles away, yet clearly so close to our hearts, we must not engage in fruitless proxy wars that only advance the legitimization of hatred and bigotry on campus.
Jackie Schaeffer is the strategic policy director of the Bruin-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Amir Kashfi is the legislative director of the Bruin-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh is the president of Bruins for Israel.
Noah Wallace is the finance chair of the Hillel at UCLA Student Board.
Hannah Tudzin is the president of the Hillel at UCLA Student Board.
Ariel Rafalian is the financial supports commissioner of the Undergraduate Students Association Council.
Inbar Goren is the president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA.