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‘Israelism’ documentary tracks changing generational attitudes of American Jews

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Throughout its 70 years of existence, Israel has enjoyed the overwhelming support of the American Jewish community, which has significantly contributed to near-unanimous bipartisan political cover for virtually all its deeds and misdeeds. This should have been a precarious situation, as US Jews generally track “liberal”, and Israel has been a most illiberal project since it was conceived more than a century ago.  At its best, it is rank bigotry that assigns rights and privileges based on characteristics of birth such as ethnicity and religion, and at its worst, it fulfills that bigotry with horrific violence.

Still, the default attitude of most American Jews toward Israel has been pride in its accomplishments coupled with willful blindness and unquestioning acceptance of the most transparent excuses.  As someone who grew up in that community, I have witnessed the PEP (Progressive except for Palestine) phenomenon in all its glory.

But things are changing. A clear generational shift is underway, as younger Jews are abandoning the established pro-Israel consensus in bigger numbers than ever.  They are swelling the ranks of university chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, and continuing to participate in the movement for Palestinian rights long after graduation.

Peering into the increasingly uncertain future of American Jewish support, Israel and its supporters have been more openly embracing the Christian Zionist movement despite its socially conservative agenda inimical to most Jews and even the outright antisemitism of its leaders.  See this New York Times article. Israel clearly hopes to continue its outsize influence on US politics despite the rapidly eroding support among younger Jewish Americans.

The new generation of US Jewish activists is the subject of a new documentary film, “Israelism,” nearing completion and scheduled for release over the next year. You can view the trailer above, and go to the website here.  The project is catching on; on Facebook, the trailer received 150,000 views in just two days.

While the film itself has a decidedly left-wing perspective, the filmmakers interviewed prominent folks across a wide spectrum of opinion, including Abe Foxman, former head of the ADL; friendly critics of Israel (aka “liberal Zionists”) such as Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami; as well as much harsher critics Noam Chomsky and Cornel West.

But the real stars are the mostly younger Jewish activists: Simone Zimmerman, Emily Mayer, Alissa Wise, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and many others.  The film captures the spirit of these energetic, articulate activists, virtually all of whom were raised in safe Zionist households.  They recount their discovery of the dark underside of the Israel they were raised to love and support without reservation. Their choice to empathize with, and actively campaign for, Zionism’s victims, whether motivated by Jewish religious principles or by Jewish secular identity, is rapidly changing the relationship between Israel and the community it had considered among its most steadfast international supporters.

The film’s producer and co-director, Eric Axelman, recalls his own journey, from being spoon-fed a tale of Israel as a “story … of Jewish redemption” to his discovery of the real narrative of “colonization, military occupation, and structural racism.” Axelman knows first-hand that “those who challenge Israel publicly face social isolation within their Jewish communities,” and hopes the film “helps start and maintain important conversations about what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.”

I took decades to make a similar transformation. In a bizarre world where simple support of equality for all is somehow seen as “extremism,” this film goes a long way to shifting the discourse and giving young Jews the freedom and encouragement to break from “Israelism,” which has replaced adherence to Judaism’s principles and rights as the secular religion of US Jews.

The producers plan to distribute the film as widely as possible, with a special emphasis on college campuses and synagogues.  The project is being financed by the young activists themselves, and although their filming is complete, they are still fund-raising to finish their post-production.  Please consider contributing to their effort (link to

David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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15 Responses

  1. on May 25, 2018, 10:36 am

    Convincing Zionist Jews that they should not support a Jewish Israeli state that has:

    1. raped, tortured, maimed and murdered innocents because they were Palestinian
    2. Bombed schools full of children because they were Palestinian
    3. Bombed ambulances and hospitals full of the sick and injured because they were Palestinian
    4. Used white phosphorous, drones and other WMD on an unarmed civilian population because they were Palestinian
    5. Enforced apartheid and occupation because they were Palestinian
    6. Stole land from the indigenous population because they were Palestinian
    7. Prevented medicine and other essentials like food supplies from being provided to civilians because they were Palestinian
    8. Stole water supplies from the indigenous population because they were Palestinians
    9. Jailed men women and children without cause or charge because they were Palestinian
    10. Destroyed a culture and traduced a whole nation/ethnicity because they were Palestinian

    seems to be a challenge because …

    Looking forward to seeing the film to hopefully understand why the great majority of American Jews are not anti-Zionist or self-hating or pro universal human rights or just humane because imo, they are not if they support Zionism in any form or degree.

    • Citizen on May 26, 2018, 6:45 am

      I agree Zionism as applied, and according to many in principal and ideology as well, is not a friend of Humanism.

  2. Marnie on May 27, 2018, 12:24 am

    “I think they don’t represent much; they’re a little super-naive” says crazy like a Foxman. Very sad to see what little respect he has for the generation he expects to continue to blindly support the apartheid borderless zionist entity like their parents and grandparents did. I find it particularly revolting that, from the video’s perspective, young american jews are brainwashed from birth that judaism is not a religious faith at all, but a political party whose sole purpose is to divest every single palestinian of the rights to their homes and their lives.

  3. Eve Human on May 27, 2018, 1:03 am

    Maybe this movie and the activism of more and more young Jewish people are the first sign of the end of Zionism.
    This would be the beginning of a more peaceful time, not only for Palestine but for the whole Middle East.
    An end of Zionism would mean the end of Israel’s interference in other countries to form public opinion there in Israel’s favor, and the end of Israel’s attempts to cut up neighboring countries by either bombings and invasions or support of Salafi terrorist groups, so it can feel safer itself.

  4. Maghlawatan on May 27, 2018, 5:19 am


    “My grandfather prosecuted Dachau war criminals. Later he wrote a book called “After Fifteen Years.” Its premise was that Nazism can happen anywhere, once good people start believing lies while not believing that those who are different from them are human beings.”

    • Citizen on May 27, 2018, 11:47 am

      Hitler wrote in Main Kampf, and well implemented a program showing that if you indoctrinated the children, early they were at your disposal for life. IMO, there’s a new form of HitlerJugend, growing up in Israel. In contrast, American Jewish youth is gradually awakening to more objective truths.

      • Citizen on May 27, 2018, 12:02 pm

        American Jews disproportionately leading the charge in settling the West Bank against international law:

      • echinococcus on May 27, 2018, 1:53 pm

        IMO, there’s a new form of HitlerJugend, growing up in Israel

        Citizen, let’s not miss the even more egregious fact of that same (or worse?) indoctrination being given **from birth** to (at least) Zionist offspring in the US Zionist cocoon. Which, by the way, includes the US Public School system, in addition to all the Saturday schools, the appropriately-named flag-flying Schulen, the post-school cares, the summer get-togethers, the Jewish student and similar associations, Zionist civilian and paramilitary camps and so on.

        It’s been going on full steam, long enough for even middle-aged tribal non-Zionists to be representative products of this machine, too.
        This is so in-your-face public it’s not even a conspiracy.

      • Tuyzentfloot on May 27, 2018, 5:14 pm

        It’s ‘Mein Kampf’. It took me many years to find out that the title was not about some kind of summer camp so now I know exactly how it’s spelled. My German is not good but I should have known better. It did fit nicely with the idea of Hitler Jugend though.

      • Mooser on May 27, 2018, 7:02 pm

        ” in addition to all the Saturday schools, the appropriately-named flag-flying Schulen, the post-school cares, the summer get-togethers, the Jewish student and similar associations, Zionist civilian and paramilitary camps and so on.”

        No wonder American Jews have moved to the right, we have no evenings left for socialism.

      • Maghlawatan on May 27, 2018, 8:07 pm


        If American Jews don’t speak Hebrew they can’t share in the fanatacsm and the trauma iterations. . When ordinary American Jewish Schmucks emigrate to Israel this is used as a cudgel to beat them with. When push comes to shove how many American Jews would shoot someone from Gaza in the head tomorrow at 8 am?
        Only the Hebrew app goes all the way .
        Hannah Arendt understood this. Israel is not American Jews’ problem. The Beitar Jerusalem guys don’t understand this .

      • Mooser on May 29, 2018, 1:29 pm

        “American Jews disproportionately leading the charge in settling the West Bank against international law”

        Yeah, I know a lot of people who have had to move after the various financial collapses of the last decade. Just born pioneers, us Americans.

      • Mooser on May 29, 2018, 2:43 pm

        And the three headline links on that Haaretz page below the main article:

        1) “Cheaper Israeli health care proves a draw for U.S. immigrants”

        2) “Sharp downturn in Jewish immigration from U.S. to Israel”

        3) “Despite anti-Semitic wave, U.S. Jews won’t move to Israel anytime soon.”

  5. Boomer on May 27, 2018, 5:12 pm

    Your documentary sounds like a worthwhile project. I look forward to watching it. There is a sort of “Israelism” among Christian Zionists as well, at least among those I’ve met and talked with. They exist–so far as their understanding and attitudes toward Israel are concerned–in a strange world unconnected to current or historical facts. It’s a world constructed by the narrative of preachers who are out of touch with empirical reality, seemingly sealed off from the reality I inhabit, as untouchable as some alternate universe that, according to some theories I don’t pretend to understand, may exist. I have found no way to communicate with them, but perhaps your documentary will be a way, for those who are willing to watch it.

    For those who are not ready for so much reality, perhaps this would be an alternative:

  6. Eva Smagacz on May 28, 2018, 4:49 pm

    Fauda, is a good thriller.

    But it is also a skilfully executed “shooting and crying” whitewash of Zionism as a practice.

    There are no checkpoints, walls, there is no occupation, no settlements, no Nakba…. only inexplicably hostile and bloodthirsty Arabs who want to kill Jews.


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