NEW YORK (Jul. 11)
Opposition is mounting in the Jewish community to a Public Broadcasting Service television documentary on the Palestinians, with a wide spectrum of organizations expressing concern about the film, which is scheduled to air Sept. 6.
The documentary, titled “Days of Rage: The Young Palestinians,” is an examination of “why the Palestinian uprising continues and the young Palestinians behind it,” according to producer Jo Franklin-Trout, who calls her approach “simple and straightforward.”
But criticism of the film in the Jewish community ranges from branding it “dishonest advocacy journalism,” to claims that it is “overt and shameless propaganda.”
While major Jewish organizations seem to concur on their dissatisfaction with the documentary, they differ on what action, if any, should be taken.
“It’s a very sensitive, delicate issue,” said Abraham Foxman, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“We are concerned about First Amendment freedom of speech. At the same time, we are concerned about accurate journalism, and we are concerned that this is not an accurate portrayal,” Foxman said.
ADL is taking a cautious approach to the issue and is still “talking about various strategies and approaches,” according to Foxman.
Among the possibilities discussed is the organization submitting an alternative film to PBS, which could be shown alongside “Days of Rage.”
DIRECT ACTION AT LOCAL LEVEL
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has distributed information about the documentary and has held meetings to discuss the issue with many of its member and observer organizations, including the United Jewish Appeal, Hadassah, American Jewish Congress and American Jewish Committee.
More direct action against the documentary, including calls for its cancellation, is taking place mainly on the local level.
“We’ve developed an approach which has called for local communities to communicate with local PBS affiliates about the airing of such a one-sided, biased piece,” said Martin Raffel, coordinator of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council’s Israel Task Force.
Raffel said that communities are “reminding PBS affiliates that they are under no obligation to run (the documentary). That is an editorial judgment that each PBS affiliate has to make for themselves.”
New York’s WNET-TV is the PBS affiliate taking the most heat over “Days of Rage.” As the documentary’s “sponsor station,” WNET is responsible for developing programming to balance the documentary’s pointedly pro-Palestinian sympathies. WNET accepted sponsorship of the program after another New York public television station, WNYC, decided not to sponsor it, calling the film “biased.”
In a June 22 meeting with representatives of Jewish organizations, WNET executives admitted that the documentary is “one-sided,” But they contend that their programming surrounding the documentary will put it in a proper context.
“The ultimate question will be whether the entire presentation is seen to be fair and responsible,” said Richard Hutton, director of public affairs programming for WNET, who participated in the meeting.
Hutton said that some WNET memberships had been canceled because of the airing and that the station had received numerous protests by mail.
Hutton would not discuss details of the programs that will run with the documentary. He said WNET was considering panel discussions both before and after the airing, or possibly showing a mini-documentary with an alternative point of view alongside “Days of Rage.”
For some Jewish leaders, promises of a balanced presentation are not enough.
Dr. Kenneth Kelner, vice president of the Manhattan region of the Zionist Organization of America, said WNET should cancel “Days of Rage” entirely.
“We are urging all concerned people to contact PBS and Channel 13 (WNET) to protest the anticipated showing of this program,” said Kelner, who took part in the June meeting with WNET executives.
The association of Conservative congregations, the United Synagogue of America, has also written to WNET saying that it “firmly opposes” the station’s decision to air “Days of Rage.”
Balancing the documentary with panel discussions would not be enough, said Lois Goldrich, a United Synagogue spokeswoman.
“No matter how carefully a verbal introduction is framed,” Goldrich said, “the impact of the pictures on the screen is what will remain with the viewer.”
Producer Franklin-Trout said she is outraged at attempts to suppress the documentary, calling such actions “totally inappropriate.”
She charged that American Jewish leaders are “much more censorious of controversy and debate than the Israelis themselves,” and condemned what she called the financial pressure and intimidation being put on PBS and WNET.