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Slammed by a Wave of Protest, Hunter College Reverses Israel Movie Cancellation 

A film that explores young Jewish Americans’ disenchantment with Israel becomes the center of a campus controversy.

John Tarleton Nov 24, 2023

On Tuesday, Hunter College Interim President Ann Kirschner reversed her decision to ban a movie about young Jewish-Americans exploring their disenchantment with Israel one week after she set off a firestorm of criticism at the CUNY campus. It will now be shown at Hunter by Dec. 5, Kirschner promised. 

“This represents the power of what the faculty, students and our union did when the president unilaterally canceled our event,” said Tami Gold, a professor of film and media studies at Hunter. 

The movie, Israelism, is co-directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen. It was inspired by their experiences of traveling to Israel and witnessing the brutal treatment of  Palestinians which was at odds with the image of Israel that they had been raised to unconditionally love. Since its release in February, the movie has won several prizes and been screened at dozens of university and campus spaces. According to Gold, the film and media studies department began making plans in June to screen the film on Nov. 14 with Axelman on hand to take questions. 

Those plans were upended after the Israel-Hamas War began on Oct. 7. The Hunter administration was deluged with thousands of emails demanding the movie screening be canceled. At first, Gold said, the administration asked that the movie screening be restricted to Hunter College students, faculty and staff. The department agreed to those terms. However, on the morning of Nov. 14, Gold was informed that Kirschner had unilaterally decided to cancel the movie screening. 

The banning set off a furious counter-response. The Hunter College chapter of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union at the City University of New York, quickly passed a resolution denouncing the cancellation as did the Hunter College Academic Senate. PEN America followed, criticizing the cancellation as “totally antithetical to the principles of free expression.” A petition was circulated on campus that gained more than 1,000 signatures. When Gold announced what Kirschner had done during a Nov. 17 campus protest, students greeted the news with outrage. 

“That announcement was met with boos and cries of ‘Shame!’ and screaming,” said P.M. Campbell. “…This brought in the multiplicity of Hunter College. This brought in even people who aren’t interested in ‘politics’.”

At a time when there has been an overwhelming crackdown on pro-Palestinian voices in academia and the culture industry, Gold said it was important to remember why this incident had occurred. 

“There’s a campaign to shut down all critiquing of Israel,” she said. “The AIPACs of the world are scared of this film because it’s about two young Jewish-Americans framing the issue of Israel and Palestine with the focus of reaching young or Jewish people in general. That’s a very powerful discourse.”

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