WASHINGTON (Dec. 18)
Four Congressmen requested today a report from the United States Information Agency on the deletion from a documentary for overseas distribution of a scene showing a rabbi, Jewish organization spokesmen charged that the deletion was made to avoid offending Arab nations, a charge that the USIA denied in three statements in 24 hours.
The Congressmen were Sen. Kenneth B. Keating, New York Republican, Representatives Emanuel Celler, Brooklyn Democrat, Leonard Farbstein, New York Democrat, and Samuel S. Stratton, Schenectady Democrat. The 30-minute documentary was prepared gratis by television writers Rod Serling and William Froug. Entitled “Let Us Continue,” it deals with the views on major public issues of President Johnson.
The denials by the USIA contained two points. The first was that an opening for the documentary, based on possible shots of various religious services had been considered and dropped. The second was that the USIA had no censorship policy and that it had, in fact, repeatedly distributed films throughout the world, including the Middle East, specifically including Israeli and Jewish personalities and events.
Rep. Celler called the explanation “weasel-worded” and said it “will not wash.” He asserted that a photo of a rabbi was “deliberately deleted because of Arab objections. This is a shocking performance.” He accused the agency of censorship. Sen. Keating said he had checked into the charges and learned that the USIA had “certain general policies with regard to scenes which they feel would offend the viewing audiences in different countries.”
DENIALS OF U.S.I.A. CHALLENGED; WRITER OF FILM QUOTED
Jewish organizations protesting the incident included the American Jewish Congress, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the New York Board of Rabbis.
Despite the denials, Mr. Serling was quoted as sustaining the censorship charge. Dr. Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, said he had talked to Mr. Serling and he quoted the playwright, who acted as producer-director for the documentary, as saying that in a preliminary meeting with various USIA officials, he and Mr. Froug proposed the use of “still-frame pictures of American faces” to dramatize the “feeling of universality” among Americans.
Dr. Prinz quoted Mr. Serling as saying: “We were told by the officials that at no time could we indicate the face of a rabbi or a synagogue or indeed anything relating to the Jewish faith. This unfortunately was a policy problem involving the Middle Eastern countries. We were told that to include such shots in the film would prevent its being shown in the Middle East, since those countries would refuse to show any of the films.”
The first denial was made by Donald M. Wilson, deputy USIA director, who said no censorship had been exerted by the USIA. Subsequently a spokesman said that “a discussion of distribution problems in the Middle East might have been brought up as a secondary issue” but he too insisted that agency policy did not include “censorship of any kind.” The third statement, issued today, reiterated the denial of censorship and amplified the list of films distributed by the agency containing Israeli and Jewish material.
None of the three denials, however, dealt specifically with Mr. Serling’s assertion flatly contradicting the USIA statements. The USIA cited in support of its defense that it had distributed TV clips on the late President Kennedy’s passing which showed commemorative services in a synagogue. Another recent USIA documentary showed Israeli athletes in pre-Olympic competition.
The agency said it had sent films to the Middle East on pianist Artur Rubenstein, violinist Jascha Heifetz, a film featuring Albert Einstein, and a report on the work of Danny Kaye for UNICEF. The USIA said it was therefore unfair to charge that it eliminated Jewish content from its programs to appease the Arabs.