Press Release: Jewish Groups Support High School’s Efforts to Ban Screening of Antisemitic Film

JCRC Statement

The JCRC of Greater Washington joined the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the American Jewish Committee in filing an amicus brief today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia supporting Jackson-Reed High School's decision to prevent a student-sponsored screening of an antisemitic documentary rife with hate speech. The full press release can be read below:

Washington, D.C., May 7, 2024—A coalition of Jewish groups today said it backed a Washington, D.C. high school’s decision to ban the screening of a documentary that traffics in antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, at a time when Jewish and Israeli students at the school have felt threatened since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.
Jackson-Reed High School, and its principal, Sah Brown, are being sued by the school’s Arab Student Union, with the help of the ACLU, for refusing to let the Arab Student Union show a version of The Occupation of the American Mind. The 2016 film claims that American Jewish groups and Israel are part of a conspiracy to manipulate the U.S. media and mislead the public about the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. 

In an amicus brief filed today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (the Brandeis Center) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said Jackson-Reed was well within its rights to prevent a screening of the film. They noted the First Amendment does not give the Arab students or any group the right to present a film rife with hate speech in a high school setting.
“Jewish students at the school already have safety concerns, feel isolated, and do not feel safe expressing their Jewishness.  The Court need only look at the experiences ongoing in society, threats to Jews, and the espoused safety concerns made by Jackson-Reed’s Jewish students to show that these hateful messages should not be shown in school,” the brief said.

The film, which is narrated by musician Roger Waters, a virulent antisemite, has come under attack for being replete with factual errors and antisemitism.

It includes accusations that decades ago, leaders of American Jewish organizations met in Jerusalem to discuss how to manipulate the American media. Claims of Jewish control over the media are part of a longstanding conspiracy theory of secret Jewish power, according to AJC’s Translate Hate glossary of antisemitic terms.
Cases explain that courts may limit speech in school when it will invade the rights of others.  For example, courts have barred Instagram posts from students that contained racist imagery, even when made outside of school, because “vilifying people based on their race threatens the targeted students’ sense of physical, as well as emotional and psychological, security.”  Another case barred the wearing of t-shirts that stated “there are only two genders” because of the impact on vulnerable students.  The playing of the anti-Semitic Occupation of the American Mind is no different.  

Brown, the principal at Jackson-Reed, Washington’s largest high school, told students in December that the screening would not be allowed, in part because it was an unsanctioned event that would be polarizing and “cause a further divide among the student body.”

That divide, the brief said, was also being widened by some Jackson-Reed teachers, including one who posted a Palestinian power fist on her wall.

“One science teacher even included an assignment asking about the climate change effects of Israel’s genocide; that same teacher also stated in class that President Biden is funding genocide,” the brief notes.

The brief also rejects claims from the Arab Student Union that it was being censored, pointing to an April 25 Palestinian Cultural Night at the high school, where the Israeli government was compared to white supremacists and the conflict in Gaza was likened to the Holocaust.

“The most distressing part was the final performance, which includes a song that calls for crushing Zionism and shooting missiles at their enemies,” according to the brief.

The Arab Student Union has asked the court for an injunction that would allow it to screen the film before the end of the school year on June 7.