Columbia’s Anti-Israel Film Festival
By DiscoverTheNetwork
May 2004

From January 24 to 27, 2003, the Columbia University Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) hosted an anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian film festival entitled “Dreams of a Nation.” Open to students and the general public alike, the festival featured 35 films directed by Palestinians, shown in their original language with English subtitles. Both the opening- and closing-night festivities were sold out several days in advance, and most other screenings were similarly filled to capacity by the time the films began. 

The organizers of this festival reject the notion that Israel has any legitimate right to exist, as evidenced by the event’s official poster, which depicts the entirety of Israel, including the officially recognized 1948 areas, as “Palestine.” Reflecting this rejectionist attitude, three of the festival films – “Haifa,” “Chronicle of a Disappearance,” and “Blanche’s Homeland” – openly oppose Israel’s right to exist, and advocate Arab migration to “Zionist-controlled territory.” The film “Milky Way” lauds the Arab “struggle” against the Israeli government. And the film “Jenin, Jenin” depicts as a real event the alleged Jenin massacre of April 2002, the accounts of which UN reports demonstrated were fabrications.  

The festival’s keynote speech was delivered by Columbia professor Edward Said (who passed away eight months later). One of academia’s most influential radical theorists, Said was once a member of the Palestinian National Council, from which he broke away in 1991 – in protest to the Oslo accords, and to what he deemed Yasser Arafat’s unduly moderate stance. In July 2000, Said was photographed throwing rocks over the Lebanese border into Israel, trying to hit Israelis on the other side. In March 2002 he wrote, Palestinian hospitals, schools, refugee camps and civilian residences have been at the receiving end of a merciless, criminal assault by Israeli troops . . . and still the poorly armed resistance fighters take on this preposterously more powerful force undaunted and unyielding. He described the conflict as a case of one state turning all its great power against a stateless, repeatedly refugeed, and dispossessed people, bereft of arms and real leadership. Israel, he said, is now waging a war against civilians, pure and simple, although you will never hear it put that way in the U.S.  This is a racist war, and in its strategy and tactics, a colonial one as well. People are being killed and made to suffer disproportionately because they are not Jews. What an irony!

The film festival also featured panel discussions, among whose participants was Professor Hamid Dabashi, chair of Columbia's MELEAC department. Dabashi likens U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Attila the Hun as “a destroyer of civilization” for his role in the Iraq war. In October 2003, shortly after the death of Edward Said, Dabashi eulogized the late professor, writing, “We were all like birds flying around the generosity of his roof, tiny dandelions joyous in the shade of his backyard, minuscule creatures pasturing on the bounteous slopes of the mountain that he was. The prince of our cause, the mighty warrior, the Salah al-Din of our reasoning with mad adversaries, source of our sanity in despair, solace in our sorrow, hope in our own humanity, is now no more.”

Another panel member was the MELEAC department’s Joseph Massad. In his panel remarks, Massad, who who regularly analogizes Israel and Nazi Germany, likened Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Two-and-a-half months later, in the April 10 edition of the Egyptian publication Al-Ahram WeeklyMassad suggested that Israel is “a racist state” whose policy of “indiscriminate violence and terror” includes the “kill[ing] and bomb[ing of] anyone who stands in its way of protecting its right to discriminate on racial grounds.”