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Judge Rules Pennsylvania Theater Must Show Israeli Film Despite Initial Decision to Cancel

Following a court order, a Philadelphia-area movie theater screened an Israeli documentary on Tuesday, less than a day after the theater’s Jewish director tried to call the screening off.

The injunction issued by Montgomery County Court instructed the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to move forward with its planned screening of “The Child Within Me,” a documentary about the Israeli musician Yehuda Poliker.

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia had filed a last-minute lawsuit against the theater alleging breach of contract, after it announced Monday night that it was no longer planning on screening the film owing to what its director called the “current climate.”

StopAntisemitism shared the news to Twitter.

On Monday, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute canceled the showing of the Israeli documentary titled ‘The Child Within Me.’

“This is not the way I wanted to do it,” Karnit Biran, the festival’s incoming chair, told Haaretz, an Israeli newpaper. Neither the festival nor the theater responded to Jewish Telegraphic Agency requests for comment Tuesday.

The legal director of the Deborah Project, a legal nonprofit that frequently litigates on behalf of pro-Israel causes, told JTA it represented the festival in court in order to compel the film center “to fulfill its obligations under the contract it signed with the Israeli Film Institute and show the Israeli movie it agreed to screen tonight.”

In his Monday letter to his board and in a public statement by the theater, Bryn Mawr Film Institute director Samuel Scott said the theater decided to cancel the showing with only a day’s notice.

He described a perception that showing the movie was tantamount to endorsing Israel’s conduct during its ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza.

“Although BMFI has always strived to be apolitical in selecting the films that we show, public sentiment lately has escalated to the point that continuing with the IFF screening is being widely taken among individuals and institutions in our community as an endorsement of Israel’s recent and ongoing actions,” Scott wrote.

He added, “This is not a statement we intended or wish to make,” but said he felt it was in the theater’s “best interests in light of the current climate.”

Local pro-Palestinian college student groups, including a chapter of the anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace, had planned to protest the screening, citing the festival’s inclusion of Israel Bonds and the Israeli Consulate General as sponsors.

The blowback from the Jewish community was severe. A local rabbi denounced the move as antisemitic, while at least one Jewish board member of the theater resigned after learning of the director’s decision.

An online petition pushing the theater to reverse its cancellation has amassed more than 3,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, and a state senator who serves as a special representative on the theater’s board also criticized the decision.

The Bryn Mawr blowup offered the latest example of how deepening divisions over the war have affected Jewish and Israeli cultural events that bear little direct connection to it. A movie theater in Hamilton, Ontario, similarly backed out of an agreement to host a local Jewish film festival in recent weeks, while concert halls across the US have canceled tour dates by Jewish pro-Israel singer Matisyahu and multiple art institutions in the Bay Area — including the Contemporary Jewish Museum — have been affected by anti-Zionist protests.