In Cancelling an Israeli Film, Bryn Mawr Film Institute Got It Wrong

Daylin Leach
4 min readApr 9, 2024

When we studied the First Amendment in law school (and yes, judges who repeatedly asked me when I was a lawyer, I DID go to law school)we studied something called the “Heckler’s Veto”. And when I say “we” I mean the other kids, who inexplicably read the assignments.

The Heckler’s Veto is a term which describes what happens when the government restricts or silences speech because some person or group objects to that speech and threatens disruption or even violence if the speech is allowed to proceed.

This is one of the most dangerous and insidious forms of speech suppression because it effectively lets the suppressor off the hook. “Hey. I’m not saying that I don’t like the speech. It’s those people over there that are the problem”.

This is, as I imagine a Supreme Court justice once said, and again, you’ll have to talk to someone who read the text books in law school to know for sure, Hooey!

Yesterday, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, of which I am a long-time member and frequent patron, cancelled, with one day’s notice, a film they planned to show as part of their annual Israeli Film Festival.

The film is called “The Child Within Me”. I have not seen the movie, because it’s not been shown, which is sort of the point. But apparently it tells the story of Israeli folk singer Yehuda Poliker, who is the child of holocaust survivors and an openly gay man. The movie explores his life, but isn’t overtly political and was filmed before the current battle between Israel and Hamas even began.

The film was also nominated for Best Documentary at the Israeli Oscars. I didn’t even know that was even a thing. Does Chris Rock host that too?

The BMFI, using classic “Hecker’s Veto” language, says it cancelled the film because some people might object, apparently to showing any film about any Israeli which holds them in a positive light. The theater also expressed a fear of violence “BMFI is a safe place for civil and nuanced conversation about diverse stories. For the well-being and safety of all patrons, BMFI will not be a location for anger and violence”.

Let’s take each of those things that BMFI “will not be a location for” separately.

First, anger. Anger?? There are so many classic movies that not only do, but are designed to provoke some measure of “anger”. What am I supposed to feel about the Nazis in Schindler’s List, or the Manson family in Helter Skelter, or the toxic polluters in Erin Brokovich? If BMFI doesn’t want to be a location for anger, they’ll be showing nothing but Care Bears movies, which frankly piss me off more than all the others.

Violence is more serious. But it is not clear from the news coverage if anyone actually even threatened violence. But more alarming is the precedent it sets. If I ever object to the message in a film shown at BMFI, I can just threaten to go down and beat the piss out of the popcorn dude unless it’s cancelled.

This is the fundamental problem with the Hecker’s Veto. It gives a veto to every heckler. Or at least, every effective heckler who can organize a few people to loudly protest. And once you can do that, you are reduced to either showing only unobjectionable pablum, or choosing which hecklers you will give a veto to, and which you won’t. This inevitably makes the sort of political statement which BMFI claims they studiously avoid.

BMFI is not the government. So, the First Amendment does not apply. But they do hold themselves out as “a safe place for civil and nuanced conversation about diverse stories”. They do make a living based on the idea of free expression.

Censoring content and cancelling showings based on the fact that someone objects is a terrible look for a theater. It’s a slippery slope to an existential threat. If BMFI was really concerned about violence, they could have hired some security and taken some precautions. But saying “You don’t like it? Fine, we won’t show it” is the one thing that they should never have done.

I have supported Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. But if BMFI wanted to show a movie that took a sympathetic view towards Hamas, I should have the choice of refusing to pay to see that movie or going and gritting my teeth until the closing credits. I should be able to write an article talking about how awful the film was and try to convince others not to see it.

The one thing I should not have the option of doing is shouting loudly and throwing my fists until they shut the movie down. As a citadel of expression, Bryn Mawr Film Institute should know that.



Daylin Leach

Long-time state House and Senate member, author of PA’s Medical Marijuana law, also creator of “shit-gibbon!” Comedian, professor, father of 2 awesome children!