We must admit that we live in the golden age of anti-Zionism. You cannot go out for a cup of coffee these days without running into a Jewish anti-Zionist. It is all the rage, and it should be. If you are a young Zionist on campus you probably feel hunted and stupid and alone, and wrapped/trapped in an atavistic narrative, so that you fantasize about your exit strategy. Some way to walk away without attracting any notice.
Of course, all the Older Jews haven’t twigged to the change. They are in denial, thanks to the news media, which embraces wornout themes of Israel’s promise because that’s the conventional wisdom, and there are so many people like Mort Zuckerman, David Cohen and Gary Ginsberg in powerful media positions, standing up for Israel, writing speeches for Netanyahu. But that’s a brittle foundation, straight out of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s all going to collapse soon, even in the mainstream. Someone like Jake Tapper or Max Fisher is going to step out and make a name for himself. Then Andrea Mitchell will tell us that Zionism is a dirty word. (Even Hadassah is debating that now, old Hadassah.) Wolf Blitzer will act like he never was one. Tom Friedman will write a book about democracy in Israel.
I say this because the Portland Press Herald in Maine has a big article about a young Jewish filmmaker doing a film, 70 Years Across the Sea: American Jews and 21st Century Zionism, that is critical of Zionism. Not Israel; Zionism. It’s time for the media to talk about Zionism, we urged four years ago. Well the Portland Press Herald‘s Doug Harlow is doing just that. “Maine director’s film turns a critical eye toward U.S. ideas about Zionism.”
The great things about this article are that it’s in a regional publication without censorship and the Jewish filmmaker/artist is discovering anti-Zionism for himself and owning it in his own way without having to parrot slogans. It’s a good reminder: anti-Zionism isn’t rocket science or doctrinal; it’s both obvious and interpretive.
Film director Eric Axelman said part of growing up Jewish in central Maine meant believing that the state of Israel represented Jewish hope, strength and perseverance. The founding of the Jewish state in 1948, following the Holocaust and the war in Europe, was redemption, he said.
But as he got older, Axelman, 27, of Norridgewock said he discovered that Zionism – the Jewish nationalist movement whose goal has been the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews – took on a new, more frightening face.
He said the ancient homeland had come to embody colonialism, military occupation and institutionalized racism and that American Jews were not being told the whole story of what was happening to the Palestinian people.
Axelman is interested in the U.S. Jewish component:
“The film is for general audiences, but I’m also really interested in having Jews re-examine what and how we’re being taught about Israel and trying to investigate what being Jewish means to us living in the 21st century and in a world that is changing so much,” Axelman said in a phone interview. “Not only, as American Jews, are we not being told the truth about Israel, but the most disturbing aspect is the censorship of left wing voices and voices that are critical of Israel in Jewish communities.”
Axelman’s trailer is excellent. It’s all about the American Jewish relationship to what Israel has become. Noam Chomsky is in there. So is Daniel Gordis, sounding very defensive.
There are a million young people discovering anti-Zionism these days. Each in his or her own terms or language is seeing the plain reality. Reporter Harlow emphasizes the US Jewish responsibility.
In the film’s trailer, Elias D’Eis, project manager at Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, a Palestinian nonprofit organization seeking peaceful solutions, says American Jews are the main supporters of the Israeli state and have to say “Occupation is not my Judaism.” Americans have “the magic stick,” he says, they can change the Israeli government.
Intermarriage and assimilation are also part of Axelman’s narrative. His mother isn’t Jewish. I sense this is one of the film’s themes. Certainly it is often easier for those who are intermarried or the children of the intermarried to step outside the Jewish communal conversation about Israel. Though Rachel Sandalow-Ash is also in the movie, the inspiring Open Hillel organizer who has worked to expose censorship in communal spaces.
It used to be much lonelier to adopt these views. Think of when Norman Finkelstein would walk into campus halls to screams of abuse. But we really are living in the golden age of Jewish anti-Zionism. One day we will celebrate this moment, but right now there’s a lot of work to be done.
Axelman’s movie is coming out in 2018, he will take it to festivals. I hope he gets funding. Here’s his GoFundMe page!