Press "Enter" to skip to content

Louisa County supervisors reverse decision to cut PVCC funding over Jewish film

What exactly Piedmont Virginia Community College President Jean Runyon said to convince the Louisa County Board of Supervisors that a documentary called “Israelism” by two Jewish filmmakers wasn’t antisemitic remains unclear.

Though it must have done the trick, as the board unanimously voted Monday night to overturn the resolution it had passed just one week prior that cut off the county’s funding to the school, a sum of $6,000 this year.

“Since that time, I’ve had several conversations and meetings with the president of the community college, who forwarded me the community college’s protocols and policies concerning affirmative action, concerning discrimination, concerning antisemitism,” said Louisa County Chairman Duane Adams before the vote at Monday’s meeting. “Those answers satisfied my concerns. I passed that information along to the board earlier today.”

Adams and his fellow members on the board said that Runyon’s explanations of the community college’s inclusion, diversity and equity protocol and her assurances that PVCC administration was “aware of the challenges both going on nationally and on a statewide level” assuaged their concerns that Jewish students were facing antisemitism due to the screening of “Israelism,” which examines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is portrayed in American Jewish institutions.

The Daily Progress has requested a copy of the documents Runyon provided supervisors. At press time, that request was still being processed. Public agencies have five days to respond to such inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act.

A week ago Monday, the board voted to strike all funding to PVCC from its budget with a resolution that briefly mentions the screening of “Israelism” hosted on April 19 by the Students for Justice in Palestine group at PVCC. “Antisemitism remains a serious concern on a worldwide basis, and the Board of Supervisors condemns any discrimination in the strongest terms,” the resolution reads.

Outside of the resolution being read aloud, there was little discussion among supervisors before the text was unanimously adopted.

That was not the case this week.

Though no community members took the opportunity to address the board during the meeting’s public comment section, Supervisor R.T. Williams Jr. said that he, as well as other supervisors, received a “really interesting phone call” after suspending PVCC’s funding from a “community member,” though he was unsure if they were indeed a constituent as the call came from a Texas area code.

“I want to make it clear, just so that no one thinks that a couple of untimely phone calls and cussing and ranting at me makes a difference,” said Williams, peering over his reading glasses at the seven people in attendance at Monday’s meeting. “That’s not why I changed my mind. I didn’t change my mind. We just wanted to hear from them.”

Williams continued, saying that “the best way to deal with these things” is to engage in discussions and work to educate oneself on the matter, an effort the board has made in his view.

Supervisor Manning Woodward echoed his colleague’s sentiment saying, “With the president of Piedmont sending the information that she sent out, that has satisfied my concerns about the safety and any type of things going on at Piedmont that shouldn’t be.”

It was the initial view of the board that the screening of the film “Israelism” was among those “things going on at Piedmont that shouldn’t be.” The film, by American Jews about American Jews, was released in February of last year, months prior to Palestinian terror group Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel.

That attack killed roughly 1,200 people, and Hamas took another 240 or so hostage. Since then, Israel has laid siege to the Palestinian territory of Gaza and the death toll has climbed to more than 34,000, the overwhelming majority of those Palestinians, and the overwhelming majority of those Palestinians women and children.

A summary of “Israelism” posted on the International Movie Database describes it thus: “When two young American Jews witness the way Israel treats Palestinians, their thoughts become conflicted. They are raised to unconditionally love Israel, but a deepening generational divide grows over modern Jewish identity.”

Though Louisa County’s resolution cites the film as the grounds for its decision, Adams said he was unaware of the film when The Daily Progress first reached out on April 30, the day after the resolution was passed.

“I don’t think there was anything to do with a film screening,” Adams told The Daily Progress by phone. “I have no idea what the film was about.”

According to a post on Adams’ Facebook page a day before the film screening, his issue was with the Students for Justice in Palestine group itself, which he referred to as “a blatantly antisemitic organization.”

While Adams and the rest of the board argued that their intention was “to ensure that the college does not support antisemitic activities on its campus,” others were left wondering if the resolution was an attempt to restrict students’ First Amendment rights.

“So, Free Speech is cool … as long as you agree with the subject of the ‘Free Speech.’ Gotcha,” said one Reddit user on an online thread discussing the board’s resolution last week.

Several others on the social media platform, as well as on Adams’ Facebook page, questioned his lack of clarity on how the film screening was potentially an “antisemitic activity.” Adams stopped responding to The Daily Progress last week when this question was also raised.

“So a movie made by Jews with Jewish lead actors is antisemitic and discriminatory against Jews? Please make it make sense,” commented another Reddit user, who said they were going to boycott any business in the county until “this stupid political ploy is dropped.”

The community college has yet to comment on the board’s change of heart. However, PVCC did release a statement after the original resolution was passed, requesting the Louisa County board reconsider “as the College plays a crucial role in supporting the community.”

Founded in 1972, the school has provided affordable, accessible education to hundreds of thousands of students. Its service area includes the counties of Louisa, Albemarle, Buckingham, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson as well as the city of Charlottesville, all of which contribute funding to its operations. Albemarle County contributes the most to the school with $24,048, the city of Charlottesville gives $12,317, while Nelson and Buckingham counties give just over $1,000 each.

“PVCC is committed to fostering a safe environment for freedom of expression,” reads the college’s statement following the suspension of funds on April 30. “Like the Board, the College condemns any discrimination in the strongest terms.”


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *