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Louisa County suspends funding to PVCC over alleged 'antisemitic' film screening

On April 19, the Students for Justice in Palestine group at Piedmont Virginia Community College screened a documentary by two Jewish filmmakers examining how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is portrayed in American Jewish institutions.

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors found this to be “antisemitic” and unanimously passed a resolution Monday night suspending all of the locality’s funding to the community college, which comes to just under $6,000.

Despite the gravity of the vote, there was no public discussion among board members at the meeting — one even later said he was unfamiliar with the text of the resolution itself.

“In light of some things that are going on at PVCC, I’d like to have a line item removed from the budget for now,” said Supervisor R.T. Williams Jr. at the meeting.

Williams asked that the resolution be read aloud. In a few sentences, it briefly mentions the film screening and says, “Antisemitism remains a serious concern on a worldwide basis, and the Board of Supervisors condemns any discrimination in the strongest terms.”

The vote was then initiated by Williams, seconded by Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes and approved by all. The meeting moved on.

Though the resolution cites the film as the grounds for its decision, the board’s chairman, Duane Adams, said he was unaware of any film or film screening when The Daily Progress first reached out.

“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.”

When The Daily Progress read the board’s resolution back to him, Adams requested that all questions be sent over email and ended the call. Several hours later, Adams responded by email, though still providing little explanation as to what aspects of the film screening were of such concern to the board.

“The film served to draw attention and while rights under the First Amendment are tremendously important, so is a stance regarding discrimination and antisemitism,” said Adams. “The Board’s intent is to ensure that the college does not support antisemitic activities on its campus, and intends to clarify the college’s stance with a simple conversation with leadership.”

The film in question is “Israelism,” written and directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, both of whom are American Jewish filmmakers. The documentary was released last February, prior to Israel’s war with the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

That conflict began Oct. 7 of last year with Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel, killing roughly 1,200 people and taking more than 240 hostages. 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.”

The Daily Progress reached out to the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at PVCC for comment with no response.

Despite his lapse in memory on the phone, Adams was vocal on social media the day before the student-organized event at PVCC.

“I’m disappointed that PVCC is allowing this movie to be shown on campus,” said Adams in a Facebook post. “As an outside entity that receives funding from Louisa County, Virginia I can not in good conscience support funding for an organization that allows a blatantly antisemitic organization use of their facilities.”

When the Daily Progress and several commenters online pressed Adams for clarification on how the film screening was potentially an “antisemitic activity,” Adams stopped responding.

The resolution discontinues the county’s support of $5,859 to PVCC. However, the decision could be reversed following “an in-person explanation by PVCC of the college’s stance on discrimination and antisemitism” to the Louisa County board of supervisors. It is unclear when or if this meeting will be held.

What would the supervisors need to hear from the school in order to restore funding?

“The Board would need to understand that while the school supports rights which are protected under the First Amendment, it does not support antisemitism or discrimination while so doing,” said Adams in his email.

PVCC did release a statement doing so, which also says that the school has provided affordable, accessible education to hundreds of thousands of students since its founding more than 50 years ago.

“We ask that the Board reconsider their decision, as the College plays a crucial role in supporting the community,” reads the college’s statement. “PVCC is committed to fostering a safe environment for freedom of expression. Like the Board, the College condemns any discrimination in the strongest terms.”

Louisa County is not the only locality that sends funding to the Charlottesville area’s only community college. Albemarle, Buckingham, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson counties as well as the city of Charlottesville also fall within the school’s service area and allocate a portion of their budget to PVCC each year. According to PVCC’s 2021-2022 local funds operating budget, 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. The total amount of funds from the localities, including Louisa County, reached $58,653 in 2022, which is over 10% of the school’s annual revenue.

The Daily Progress reached out to each of the localities in PVCC’s service area to see if other boards were considering a similar resolution. The chairs of the Greene, Albemarle and Nelson county boards all responded before press time; they all said no.

Spokesman for Virginia’s Community Colleges System Jim Babb told The Daily Progress that no other localities in the commonwealth have made any such move to withhold funds.

“Violence, hatred, and prejudice in all its forms have no place on our campuses. We support safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments and unequivocally stand against anything that threatens those values,” said Babb in an email.

While Louisa County’s annual $6,000 to PVCC may seem like a negligible loss for an educational institution, community colleges typically don’t enjoy the considerable endowment funds that public, state-funded universities do.

According to a breakdown of PVCC’s departmental budget from 2021-2022, the $5,859 from Louisa County could have covered all discretionary costs for the departments of Business, Math, & Technologies; Health & Life Sciences; Humanities, Fine Arts, & Social Sciences in addition to the library, human resources and academic support.

Many other universities and educational institutions have hosted film screenings in the past several months as a way to foster civil discourse regarding the war in Gaza, some of which have also faced backlash.

An anonymous University of Virginia parent accused two of the school’s professors and one student of antisemitism for organizing an Israel-Palestine film series, which alternated between screening movies from Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers. The two professors who helped facilitate the film series are Jewish.

The parent’s document accused the professors of being “pro-Palestinian and antisemitic and therefore unlikely to provide a balanced view.”

As with Louisa County’s resolution, no evidence has been offered to substantiate the claim.


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