Syracuse decides to allow screening of film on Israeli settlers

The other day I noted that M. Gail Hammer, a professor of religion at Syracuse, canceled the screening of a film on Israeli settlers because of her fear that it would incite the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) students on campus. The director of the film “The Settlers“, Simon Dotan, had been invited by a professor at Nebraska who was co-organizing a Syracuse conference on religion and film, but Hammer nixed that invite. The ironic thing was the BDS would have supported the showing, for the film apparently portrayed Israeli settlers in a negative light.

This was unique, as far as I know, because it was a disinvitation based not on any tangible dissent or opposition, but merely the fear of dissent—and a misguided fear to boot. Hammer’s behavior was reprehensible.

Fortunately, people can back down, as both Hammer and Syracuse have now done. As reports, Hammer has apologized and the University of Syracuse will be showing the film after all. The Atlantic article by Conor Friedersdorf publicizing Hammer’s actions no doubt contributed to the publicity that led to this reversal:

Michele Wheatly, vice chancellor and provost at SU, emailed the campus community Friday morning to say that Hamner’s decision was not consistent with university policies. She said the university would be reaching out to the filmmaker to arrange a screening on campus.

Hamner also issued a formal apology, saying her reluctance stemmed from a fear of controversy and inexperience planning conferences.

. . . SU’s provost, Wheatly, responded to the controversy this morning [Sept. 2].

“I feel it necessary to reaffirm our commitment to intellectual and respectful debate on controversial issues,” she said in an email to the campus community.

Wheatly pointed to a letter from her predecessor, from 2014. Interim Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina said at the time that SU does not support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but welcomed discussion, debate and dialogue on campus concerning issues of peace and security in the Middle East.

Wheatly said she was working with Chancellor Kent Syverud and the College of Arts and Sciences to invite Dotan to screen the film on campus. No plans for the screening have been confirmed at this time.

Hammer issued her own statement through the University News Office:

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.09.49 PM

Well, I’ll take that; she certainly uses the right words, and it’s not a “notapology.” What is interesting is her mentioning the “media coverage” that ultimately came from the Atlantic piece. This is a lesson for us: if you see an egregious example of censorship or suppressionof speech, call it to the attention of the media, preferably Big Media like The Atlantic.


h/t: Greg Mayer


  1. Joseph Stans
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    The actions of Ms. Hammer also calls into question what exactly her beliefs are and how easily they are abandoned.

  2. George
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand why anyone on the left would object to “The Settlers.” The movie is hostile to the title subject. Democracy Now! (part of the American far left) likes the movie:

    Haaretz, the left wing Israeli newspaper, does not approve. The rest of Israeli media is even more hostile to it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 4, 2016 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      Yeah well, that link’s no damn good since it only works for Haaretz subscribers. All I can read is:
      “‘Settlers’ Documentary Turns a Blind Eye to the Horror of West Bank Life
      With its mistaken point of departure, over-cautiousness and absence of realistic portrayals of Palestinian life, the new documentary by Shimon Dotan disappoints.”

      That doesn’t sound, to me, as if Haaretz’ disapproval is of the same flavour as the rest of the Israeli media.


  3. Taz
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    In particular my film colleague in English who granted me affiliated faculty in the film and screen studies program and who supported my proposal to the Humanities Council for this conference told me point blank that if I have not myself seen your film and cannot myself vouch for it to the Council, I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues.

    This is the most concerning aspect of the entire incident. There is nothing that indicates this is inaccurate.

  4. Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  5. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins once said being a clergyman is the only job in which you can get fired for changing your mind. Offense culture should not let this happen to universities.

  6. Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I just wonder whether this reversal would have happened had the film in fact been pro Israel/settlers.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I think we all know the answer to that.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    A stand up apology, to be applauded!

    We all do mistakes, out of unreasonable fear at times. It is the law of physics. But it is our responses to revealed mistakes that means most.

    • bluemaas
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Your comment, Dr Larsson, is nice. And civil and true. Clear from the definition for an ‘apology’ is: it be genuine. That is, (at the least) two – fold: one for something said or done wrongly is sorry. That one for something said or done wrongly, that wrongness will not, again, be happening.

      Dr Hamner’s apology was public. Inside certain circumstances, .that. for an apology to be genuine is, oftentimes, a necessary third criterion. It remains to be seen if in future platforming transgressions, there will be those mistakes righted, and as importantly, those same mistakes apologized for publicly. For those made across the academy landscape, let alone, for those mistakes made from intercountry relationships on through to interpersonal ones.

      Hmmm, pending those laws of physics, o’course !


  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Jerry – not sure whether it’s deliberate or a typo, but you’ve misspelled Ms HamNer’s name as Ms HamMer throughout your post.

    Good to see she has the courage and integrity to admit she got it wrong and change her mind. There are many who would have just doubled down.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      “Jerry – not sure whether it’s deliberate or a typo, but you’ve misspelled Ms HamNer’s name as Ms HamMer throughout your post.”

      Freudian slip maybe. M. Gail (ban) Hammer.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    At the time … I had not viewed Professor Dolan’s film yet, which I realize now is standard protocol.”

    Jesus Aitch Criminy, a college educator needs a “standard protocol” to know not to kibosh a film she hasn’t seen?

    • rickflick
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Standard protocol == deflector shield

    • somer
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, a bit bizarre

  10. crf
    Posted September 4, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    A test of a committed BDSer is to oppose the screening of this film simply because it is by an Israeli. His name (Shimon Dotan), or his protrayal of the subject matter ought not to matter a whit.

    That is what boycott means.

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