J Street needs to take more care in choosing who they lend their platform to

Mission: Hebron, a short film, purports to be an investigative documentary into Israel Defense Forces (IDF) misconduct. In practice, the film undermines the Jewish history of Hebron and vilifies the actions of Jewish residents and soldiers there. It is heavily biased, misleading and raises concerns about why J Street U Miami, a student group “fighting for peace, democracy and human rights,” would screen it.

The opening segment of the film presents Hebron as a Palestinian city and makes little mention of its significance for Jews. Hebron is the second holiest city in Judaism, the most ancient religion of the three Abraham faiths and home to the world’s oldest Jewish community. To this day, Jews worldwide come to pray at Ma’arat HaMachpela, commonly known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. The tomb is the ancient burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as their wives, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah — the forbearers of the Jewish faith.

The film also suggests the IDF presence in Hebron is nefarious; in actuality, it is there to defend against terrorism and anti-Jewish violence that have, for decades, endangered or taken the lives of Israeli citizens. In cases of IDF misconduct, the Israeli courts put those soldiers on trial and take such instances extremely seriously; however, such isolated incidents do not represent the values and mission of the IDF. Unfortunately, the anti-Jewish violence in Hebron pre-dates the establishment of the State of Israel. In the 1929 Hebron Massacre, Arab extremists brutally murdered 67 people. These extremists responded to calls for violence and “Jihad” by Nazi collaborator and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Hussein, who attempted to ethnically cleanse Jews from Hebron and Jerusalem.

Despite being an important historical event and part of a pattern of recurring violence indicative of the challenges in Hebron, the film only briefly touches on the subject, once again concealing crucial information from the viewer that gives context to the situation in Hebron.

Instead, the film focuses on interviewees’ vague accounts of events that are difficult to prove or disprove but demonize Israelis. The filmmaker collaborated with Breaking the Silence (BtS), a European-funded Israeli NGO that defames the State of Israel through alleged accounts of IDF misconduct from soldiers and “anonymous sources.”

Additionally, as CAMERA’s Ricki Hollander points out, almost every single interviewee in the film is a publicist for BtS rather than the independent witnesses they pose as. NGO Monitor, an independent and nonpartisan research institute dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability of NGOs claiming human rights agendas, discovered that many BtS claims are lies or highly exaggerated.

Breaking the Silence also deliberately withholds identities and details of alleged acts of misconduct, preventing the IDF Military Justice system and independent investigators from taking action. The BtS website admits their goal isn’t to address the supposed injustices but to discourage Israel’s support amongst the general public.

Given their duplicitous history, accounts by Breaking the Silence members in this film should be approached with a cautious lens. It is also concerning that this is the second time that J Street U Miami has lent their platform to BtS. In March 2021, the group hosted an event with a member of Breaking the Silence featuring testimonies from soldiers, like those featured in Mission: Hebron.

J Street’s national platform has also been the subject of controversy, often spreading misinformation about the Arab-Israeli conflict, supporting discriminatory anti-Israel boycotts and partnering with anti-Israel organizations.

Members of J Street at UM should be mindful not to promote a film that is attempting to erase the Jewish significance of Hebron and maligning Israel’s efforts to promote religious pluralism and keep its citizens safe. Jonah Karsh, President of J Street at UM and UM’s Chapter of J Street declined a request for comment.

Alexandra Berman is a 2021-2022 Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis and a junior majoring in Advertising.