ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Little Theatre in Rochester postponed the 2023 Witness Palestine Festival Monday, hours after a Republican politician threatened to pull out of a scheduled debate if the festival were to continue.

Mark Assini, Republican candidate for Monroe County Executive, called for the festival to be postponed indefinitely due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Assini said if the festival went on as scheduled, he would not participate in a debate with incumbent Democrat candidate Adam Bello, scheduled to air on WXXI.

The Little Theatre, a subsidiary of WXXI, released a statement later that afternoon, saying the festival was postponed “due to safety concerns for festival organizers, Little patrons and staff.”

The festival features films shot in both Israel and Palestine. Organizers say it attempts to communicate the experience of the Palestinian people to those in Rochester.

“The film festival tone is of anger and hatred of Israel,” Assini said. “There is no question, this is not something that belongs in our community.”

The Little Theatre says it has hosted the Witness Palestine Festival for 12 years. It was scheduled for October 21-22 and October 28-29.

Full statement from The Little Theatre

The 2023 Witness Palestine Festival, hosted at the Little Theatre, has been postponed. After serious discussion, this decision was made by the Little Theatre, in consultation with festival organizers. 

The Little has hosted this festival for 12 years, but due to safety concerns for festival organizers, Little patrons and staff, the decision has been made to postpone. The Little supports the Jewish and Palestinian communities, both in Rochester and worldwide. We unequivocally condemn violence against any and all civilians.  

Witness Palestine is an event programmed and organized by a third-party. According to festival organizers, The Witness Palestine Film Festival is a project of Rochester Witness for Palestine, which seeks peace for the people of Palestine wherever they may be. The Witness Palestine Festival Committee includes community members involved in interfaith and Palestinian solidarity work. 

Witness Palestine was scheduled to take place Oct. 21-22, and 28-29.