You had a post three weeks ago about our rabbi Yossi Feintuch urging Christians to block divestment resolutions. Here’s an update of sorts.
Is this a great country, or what?
At dusk on Wednesday evening April 25, the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day; April 26 this year), about 35 members of Congregation Beth Shalom gathered to eat Jewish food (falafel, babba ghanoush) and watch Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference (a section of it is above). The brand-new documentary was produced by Rabbi Raphael Shore, who founded JerusalemOnLineU, the on-line educational organization that distributes the film. Shore also founded the Clarion Fund, and under its auspices produced another documentary, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Twenty-eight million copies of Obsession were distributed as free newspaper inserts in swing states before the 2008 election; and the film figures in Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto.
As you might expect from its provenance, Israel Inside is a congeries of Israeli self-praise, a cinematic sequel to Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, the book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The narrator is Happiness guru Tal Ben Shahar, who was undoubtedly chosen for his stereotypically “Jewish” charm and charisma, but whose assertiveness would have made me seek a second opinion if I didn’t already have one. Not that there’s much to object to in the actual content of the film. Who could complain about the IDF team that rushed to the aid of Haiti after the earthquake? Only the Grinch who stole Independence Day would be so surly as to call attention to the filming crew that happened to accompany the rescuers as they did their tikkun olam mitzvah. It’s the smarmy vulgarity of the relentless stream of ethnic braggadocio that makes this movie such an embarrassing offering.
Our rabbi Yossi Feintuch, who bar mitzvah'd my sons, called for questions afterward, and of course I rose. He knew what was coming, and when I said I wanted to comment, he shouted me down, saying no comments, only questions. Yossi and I, ordinarily amicable enough, bring out the worst in each other when the subject of Israel comes up: I raised my voice to match his.
“OK, I have a question, then,” I said (too loudly). “It’s horror at the Occupation that motivates the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Europe and now the US. Do you really think that a piece of propaganda like we just watched will be effective at countering that horror?”
Yossi said (too loudly) “I have an answer: oy veh!”
“What an excellent answer, Rabbi!” I exclaimed (too loudly). “Would anyone else like to try to answer the question?”
Yossi: “Altogether now: Oy Veh!” (a small chorus joined in his words).
“This wasn’t propaganda,” he went on; “I had to pay money to show this film. One doesn’t pay for propaganda.” End of “discussion.”
Yossi’s right about having to pay. I checked on the JerusalemOnLineU website, and apparently he shelled out $75 for a licensing fee, minus the 25 percent discount for showing it on Yom Ha’atzmaut. And as an educational site JerusalemOnLineU is mostly free of patent hasbara chametz. Not entirely, though: there’s a link to JerusalemOnLineU’s subsidiary Step Up For Israel and its Shore-produced documentary Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus.
Charging for Israel Inside and calling it “educational” doesn’t mean it’s not propaganda, of course. But I move the previous question: what’s the intended effect? It’s hard to believe that a prospective delegitimizer, Jew or gentile, will be dissuaded by this encomium to ethnic achievement, any more than a prospective Resistance fighter would have been deterred by the excellence of the Volkswagen or autobahnen. So I guess the target is the choir rather than the pews. Even so, I don’t anticipate much payoff in actual vigor or effectiveness of the anti-delegitimization campaign ahead.
George P. Smith is an unbelieving “Jew-In-Law” from Columbia, MO. His wife is Jewish, and both sons were bar mitzvahed by Rabbi Yossi Feintuch.