Updated on Thurs., Nov. 30

On Nov. 29, it was reported that the Hunter College administration has agreed to reschedule the postponed screening for Dec. 5, and will include a discussion with one of the directors, Erin Axelman, and a rabbi, Andy Bachman.

(NEW YORK)— PEN America today called Hunter College’s cancellation of a scheduled screening of  the film Israelism “totally antithetical to the principles of free expression.” Directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, the documentary is critical of American Jews’ support of Israel, and of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.

The film has won several prizes since its release earlier this year, and was scheduled to be screened at Hunter on Nov. 14, followed by a conversation with one of the film’s directors and a protagonist, in an event organized by the college’s film and media department. The screening was canceled on that day by interim President Ann Kirschner, who cited “safety concerns.” An email campaign earlier called for the film’s cancellation. A spokesperson for Hunter, part of the City University of New York, has since said that the film screening had been postponed rather than canceled and will be rescheduled.

In response, Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, said:

“The decision to cancel this film is totally antithetical to the principles of free expression and academic freedom to which Hunter College must adhere. At this moment of heightened political tensions and threats of antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus, it is incumbent on college leaders to take prudent measures to ensure safety and security. But such measures must not come at the cost of free expression; and  vague ‘security concerns’ should not be used as smokescreen to  justify canceling events The antidote to political tension and disagreement is more speech, more listening, and more dialogue; this film screening and conversation offered the opportunity for just that. This worrying decision runs roughshod over the decision of faculty and the department to host the event in the first place, and has deprived the entire campus of an opportunity to engage in an important conversation. When free expression is denied, everyone loses.” 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057