Press Release: Students Back Off Lawsuit to Show Antisemitic Film at Washington High School

JCRC Statement

The JCRC of Greater Washington, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the American Jewish Committee issued the following press release after a student group at Jackson-Reed High School in Washington, DC agreed on Wednesday to not screen Occupation of the American Mind, a virulently antisemitic documentary.

WASHINGTON, DC (May 8, 2024) — A student group at Washington, DC’s largest high school, which had sued to compel the school to screen a documentary filled with antisemitic tropes and conspiracies, has agreed not to show the film. A coalition of Jewish groups and Jewish parents had supported the school’s decision to stop the film from being shown.

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 (JCRC), had filed an amicus brief in the case in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.

The brief argued that Jackson-Reed High School was within its rights to prevent a screening of The Occupation of the American Mind because it was “an unabashed piece of hate propaganda” narrated by Roger Waters, “a virulent anti-Semite.”  As the groups argued, the First Amendment does not give the right to present a film rife with hate speech in a high school setting.

Under its agreement with the high school, the Arab Student Union will withdraw its request for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, would have allowed it to show the film. Jackson-Reed will allow the group to show one of three other films that the school had previously determined were less objectionable and free of antisemitic rhetoric.  According to the District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) filing, the Arab Student Union could have shown any of these movies even without filing suit.

“Jewish students and their families have felt threatened and demonized in the seven months since the Hamas massacre in Israel,” said Edna Friedberg (who provided a declaration with the brief), the parent of a Jackson-Reed student and who is a Holocaust historian. “There is still more work to be done, but this is a victory for all of us who cherish our public schools as safe and inclusive communities.”

“The school has become an intolerable place for Israeli and Jewish students, and I am thankful that at least this film will not be allowed to add flame to the fire and create an even more inhospitable place for many students,” said parent Jennifer Knoll.

The film has come under attack for being replete with factual errors and antisemitism. It includes accusations that American Jewish organizations met in Jerusalem in the 1980s 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.

“The school was right not to allow the screening of a film that would have further polarized a student body already divided over the Israel-Hamas war,” said AJC Chief Legal Officer Marc Stern. “High schools should be a place for constructive dialogue on important issues. This film would have prevented that.”

“High schools should not be sanctioning movies, teacher lesson plans, or any ‘educational’ activities that present a one-sided, biased perspective, often laced with antisemitic tropes about Israel and Jews. That is not education,” stated Kenneth L. Marcus, chairman of the Brandeis Center and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.  “Schools have every right to exclude anti-Israel propaganda."

"We are gratified that this antisemitic film, the screening of which the JCRC has battled for years, will not be shown at Jackson-Reed. We appreciate DCPS for refusing to allow the film to be shown and defending its position in court,” said JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel. “Most of all, we are relieved for the school’s Jewish and Israeli parents and students, who have endured persistent, searing harassment, often with little or no response from DCPS to protect them. Our goal must be to reduce conflict and increase mutual respect and empathy at Jackson-Reed, not to further inflame tensions.”

BakerHostetler in Washington, led by partner Paul Levine with assistance from Ken Reisenfeld, Jason Hoffman, and Ben Janacek, represented the Jewish groups and parents in writing the amicus brief.