A movie called The Zionist Idea has been making its way round Jewish film festivals in the US. I caught up with it this week when it was shown at the Jewish Film Festival in London. I wish I hadn’t.
Directed by garlanded American filmmakers Oren Rudavsky and Joseph Dorman, it purports to be a history of Zionism through the eyes of both Israeli Jews and Arabs. The film’s website tells us: “Zionism remains little understood and its meanings often distorted.
We believe that it is critical for Americans to better understand Zionism’s meaning, history and future.”
They will not do so from this movie. It is nothing short of a travesty. Its message is that Israel is fundamentally immoral, oppressive and illegitimate and that Zionism is a creed that brings suffering to the innocent.
Through selective reporting, omission and distortion the movie puts Zionism in the dock and judges it guilty. Falsely placing its origins in Czarist Russia, it presents an affecting enough picture of the alienation and persecution of Diaspora Jews only to state that they found redemption by dispossessing another nation – the Palestinians.
That nation, however, never existed. When Jews started to return to their ancient homeland early in the last century, Arabs living there described themselves variously as Syrian or part of a pan-Arab nation. On the backs of the returning Jews, Arabs poured into Palestine from surrounding Arab countries.
In 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul- Hadi, told the Peel Commission: “There is no such country as Palestine!” Zuheir Muhsin, military commander of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said after the 1967 Six Day War: “There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation... yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes.
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The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”
In 2012 the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of the Interior and of National Security Fathi Hammad said: “Half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.”
The movie mentions none of this.
After the Balfour Declaration committed the British government in 1917 to reestablishing the Jewish national home, local Arabs welcomed the prospect.
In March 1919, Emir Faisal wrote: “We feel that the Arabs and Jews... by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step toward the attainment of their national ideals together. We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement... We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home.”
But Rudavsky and Dorman do not see what Emir Faisal saw. They don’t acknowledge that the Jews are the only people for whom Israel was ever their national home, centuries before the Arabs invaded.
The movie makes no mention of the Jews’ continuous presence in the land, of Jerusalem and Tiberias established in the ninth century or Ashkelon, Jaffa, Caesarea and Rafah established in the 11th century. It makes no mention of the international treaty obligation, imposed by the 1920 San Remo conference and the British Mandate, to settle the Jews throughout what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza “as of right and not on sufferance.”
Instead, an Israeli interviewee claims the Jews committed “peaceful violence” by dispossessing the indigenous “Palestinians.”
“Zionism,” says an Israeli “peace” activist, “is like a man jumping out of a burning building and landing on someone’s head.”
There is no acknowledgment of the century- old Arab intention to wipe out the Jewish national home; nor of British support during the Mandate for Arab terrorism; not of the alliance between Hitler and the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who wanted to exterminate every Jew in the Middle East.
Instead, the movie effectively transforms Arab aggression, terrorism and war crimes into a form of legitimate resistance. And the 1948 war that five Arab states launched to destroy the State of Israel at its birth is described falsely as a “brutal civil war.”
Having legitimized Arab violence, the movie then dumps on its victims. After the Six Day War, it claims, Zionism morphed into a new “messianism,” mutating into something inherently expansionist, rapacious and fanatical.
There is no mention of the Arabs’ rejection of Israel’s offer to give up the newly conquered land. No mention of the strategic necessity to retain and settle these territories if Israel was to protect itself against unending attack.
No mention of the distortion of law which falsely labels Israeli control of these disputed territories as an “occupation,” a word used without challenge. No mention that the Jews either agreed to, or themselves offered the Arabs, a Palestine state in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008, only to see further Arab rejectionism and intensified violence.
No mention that Palestinian Arabs – including terrorists – are routinely treated in Israeli hospitals. Instead, the movie dwells upon Physicians for Human Rights, which treats Arabs deprived of medical care in the West Bank and whose Arab and Jewish members say things like: “Part of my nation is living under never-ending historical grief,” and “Zionism is a word which causes suffering.”
One of the most distressing aspects of this movie is the number of young Israelis who express loathing for Israel and Zionism. One of them, claiming the Jews “settled someone else’s land” and stating the demonstrable falsehood that “other religions than Jews can’t live in Israel,” says of his country: “At base it is racist. It will vanish.”
Among such young Israelis there is a deep longing for Israel to be just like any other country. But it is not, and never can be. Israel is unique in the world because its genesis, history and people are unique.
Accordingly, Israel should not be judged as the same as every other country but – crucial distinction – judged in the same way as every other country, according to the same standards of objective truth, historical accuracy, fairness, justice and expectations of behavior.
But it is not judged by the same standards.
It is singled out, uniquely, to be judged by double standards. It is singled out for systematic falsehoods, distortion and bigotry.
Zionism, the movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, has been turned into a stick with which to beat up Israel, and the movie is but another example of this disgusting pathology.
What Rudavsky and Dorman reveal, above all, is that the Jews have a massive problem with sections of their own intelligentsia whose malevolence toward Israel is exceeded only by their ignorance about the Middle East, history and the Jewish people.
The movie, however, received a grant from the US National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency funded by Congress whose aims include “conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.”
Congressional money has thus been used to make a movie which, far from that ideal, peddles a distortion of history and will incite further hatred – not least among those Diaspora Jews for whom its warped and poisonous message will further accelerate their progressive alienation from their own people.Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).
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