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New Israel Fund to present controversial Israeli film

by JOSHUA SCHUSTER, Bulletin Staff

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A controversial documentary which set off a buzz in Israel last year has finally made its way to San Francisco.

The 22-part series "Tekumah," screened on state-sponsored television in Israel in honor of the country's 50th anniversary year, gave a frank depiction of the Jewish state by Zionists and anti-Zionists. That riled Israelis from right to left.

After an episode exploring Palestinian antipathy for the Jewish state, the Likud government's Communications Minister Limor Livnat protested, deploring the government documentary for supporting Palestinian points of view rather than Israeli ones.

Now, parts of the film will be shown for the first time in San Francisco. The New Israel Fund will present one-hour segments of the series beginning 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Congregation Sherith Israel, and facilitate a discussion after each screening.

Stuart Schoffman, an Israel-based columnist for the Jerusalem Report, will lead the discussion following Tuesday's showing.

Schoffman, who found himself glued to the TV along with other Israelis watching "Tekumah," said that Livnat's negative reaction was telling.

"She didn't intend to be as candid" as she came across, said Schoffman in an interview from Jerusalem. "Every society has its myths. The idea behind the film was that a 50-year-old country should be mature enough to examine its own myths without worrying about undermining the society."

Israelis weren't so much up in arms as they were exposed and uncomfortable, Schoffman said. By keying on the many sensitive internal divisions, including economic, religious and ethnic differences, the film "exposed deep faultlines in the society," Schoffman said.

He will moderate the discussion following the film segment called "Ingathering of the Exiles -- 1948-58." Much of the segment is devoted to the relations between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews after the mass immigration to Israel. Some Sephardim have maintained that the Ashkenazim have been elitist and dismissive of the Sephardim since Israel's birth.

"People want to end this internecine rivalry. But the [Sephardic] Shas Party's meteoric rise [in the recent elections] shows there is still a fair amount of resentment today," Schoffman said.

While different Israelis balked at different elements of the documentary, Schoffman said he was pleased that no one pulled the plug on the project.

A similar film, however, might not fare as well in America, he says, speaking from personal experience.

An official documentary telling the 50-year story of Israel was planned by an international jubilee committee, he said, which wanted a film it could send to movie houses across the United States. The committee tapped the Los Angeles-based Simon Weisenthal Center as producer. Schoffman helped draft the script, called "A Dream No More."

But with the film all but finished, the committee shut it down, claiming the work had failed. Although Schoffman said the film had less political content than "Tekumah," the committee apparently decided that a U.S. audience wasn't ready to accept a more candid look at the Jewish state.

"Instead of presenting something as complex as it is, the committee wanted to cling to a heroic, unblemished image of Israel," Schoffman said. "Compared to 'Tekumah,' our film is much more inspirational. But it wasn't what the committee wanted politically. In Israel, people aren't as afraid and are much more realistic."

The two other one-hour segments of "Tekumah" showing Wednesday and Thursday are titled "From Mt. Herzl to the Western Wall," on religious and secular issues, and "The Opti-Pessimist," on Arab Israelis.

"Tekumah" will air 7 p.m. June 8, 9 and 10 at San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California St. Admission is free.


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