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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

Experts discuss social justice in ‘Boycott’ screening

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies hosted a film screening and panel discussion Tuesday night exploring themes of social justice, freedom of speech, activism and political dissent as a form of patriotism.

The panel was composed of four experts: Olivier Morel, a film scholar, Dory Mitros Durham, an expert on institutional racism and law and the associate director for the Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights, Daniel Nerenberg, the communications associate for Just Vision and Atalia Omer, a well-published professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at the Kroc Institute.

The film, titled “Boycott” and directed by Julia Bacha, is a non-profit project that documents grassroots activism around the Israel-Palestine conflict, and highlights the impact of anti-boycott laws on free speech.

Bacha’s Just Vision, an organization which “fills a media gap on Israel-Palestine through independent storytelling and strategic audience engagement,” according to its website. It has previously produced similar documentary films critical of Israel’s role in the Israel-Palestine issue. The film follows several court cases in which ordinary individuals and organizations went to court over state laws requiring contractors to sign pledges promising not to boycott any goods from Israel, or their contracts would be terminated. The laws, which have passed with bipartisan support in 35 states, are seen by some as an attempt to silence criticism of Israel and stifle free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Throughout the panel discussion, the experts delved into the complexities surrounding the film, exploring questions of justice and social activism, the history and influence of filmmaking and the importance of free speech.

Morel emphasized the unique ability of cinema to tell stories that are rooted in the experiences of ordinary people, and the role of the filmmaker in shaping political narratives. He also praised Bacha’s and Just Vision’s ability to “film at street level, allowing the audience to be caught in the dreams and the nightmares of someone.”

Nerenberg discussed the broader implications of anti-boycott laws, seeing them as the “tip of the iceberg in attempts to censor free speech.”

He acknowledged the emotional impact of the film, but also noted that it “does not depict a myth of equal power between Israel and Palestine.”

Durham explored the potential impact of the Supreme Court's decisions on these cases, and the likelihood of the court taking on the case in the future. She pointed out the importance of understanding the motivations behind the laws, and the “strange bedfellows” of political supporters.

Atalia Omer concluded the discussion by acknowledging the power of film to educate and engage audiences on complex issues, and to help bridge the gap between different perspectives.

After the panel, audience members added their perspectives, raising questions about how to engage with those who may view the film as propaganda and how to promote peace in the face of ongoing conflict. In response, the panel emphasized the importance of protecting free speech, promoting human rights and working towards a more just and equitable world.

Contact Maxwell Feldmann at