Friday, September 27, 2013

Zionism, Racism, and Confronting Nuance

The topic of Zionism as a 19th century socio-political current and whether it was/is a racist theory is one which, unless carefully moderated and given nuance, quickly descends into a non-sensical game of back-biting accusations on both sides.  Ergo, it is necessary to be polite about what generated Zionism, namely, anti-Semitism and anti-assimilationism, because those are legitimate and painful sins committed against any ethnic group.  But it also is important to recognize that Zionism was not a soothing balm to anti-Semitism; rather, it was a further extension of a continued pattern of abuse.  The English ascent to the Zionist cause in the Balfour Declaration was not a long-overdue attempt to solve the question of European anti-Semitism.  On the contrary, it was the crass use of an abused ethnic population as imperial shock troops that would secure Anglo petroleum concerns.  The problem is that it is often forgotten that the Anarchist Zionism embraced by Noam Chomsky, which opposed the concept of a ethnicly-aligned Palestine or Israel with segregated Jews and Arabs, was as valid a current, if not more so, than the hardline behavior of the settler community of Israel.
This is perhaps the real point: while Chomsky certainly was part of a movement that tried to bring justice to the kibbutzim system, it certainly did not become the mainline current, and Ariel Sharon's brand of Zionism was quite different from Chomsky's.  At what point in the conversation should we accept that the word Zionism no longer properly fits what Chomsky practiced, because it has ceased to have any visible impact on the militant settler sub-culture?  Chomsky himself mockingly replies today his thinking would be called 'anti-Zionism', and so it is perhaps important to note this when moving forward with critiques of these national cinemas.
In the case of Israeli cinema, there is a whole swathe of studio-based film and entertainment produced on a mass scale that served to enforce the dominant political history of the Zionist movement, a taboo topic until the 'New Historians' hit the scene in the 1980's.  The iconography and hierarchical value systems in this romantic period is much akin to the American Hollywood Studio System, especially with musicals and comedies.  However, as the Palestinian crisis has evolved, through the Intifadas and wars, the way cinema in Israel has approached the issue has evolved also.
The Palestinian diaspora films, from multiple countries in multiple languages, have in turn featured a whole different set of issues.  The Israeli existential theme of their cinema is existence and attainment of Eretz Yisrael; Palestinian cinema is the existential crisis of exile and displacement, being pigeonholed as a terrorist merely for being of a certain ethnic heritage and the loss of the land of Palestine.  The victimization of the Palestinians is made much more poignant and understandable through their cinema, and a new spectrum emerges through which to contemplate Zionism.
The common line is that Zionism was a saving grace for the Jews.  However, if it is understood that the way it was used merely furthered discrimination against both Jews and Arabs by the Christian European powers, perhaps we should see it as something of a weapon of racism, an imperial cudgel.  As such, seeing this as an imbedded reality for the ideology, it becomes a matter of careful discernment when facing the role of Zionism in Israeli cinema as an ideological standpoint.  More directly, is Israeli film inherently doomed to the accusation that it is merely an Ideological State Apparatus for the Knesset and its leadership?  Or can we begin to see a sense of critically approaching and grappling with Zionism in Israeli cinema?  Obviously films like WALTZ WITH BASHIR or LAW IN THESE PARTS deal with Humanist themes like legal rights in a critical fashion, but are we going to see a post-Zionist film about the Nakba made by Israeli film makers, akin to THE SEARCHERS or DANCES WITH WOLVES?  We already have the Turkish action film KURTLAR VADISI: FILISTIN, adapted from a television serial in the vein of the American 24 series focused on the Gaza flotilla, but only the Brits have produced the 2011miniseries THE PROMISE, a drama about the end of the Mandatory period and the withdrawal of British troops that witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine beginning.  The analogy between Zionism and the death of the Cherokee has previously been drawn by Dr. Norman Finkelstein, and he argues what was done in the Nakba was equivalent.  With a film like KURTLAR VADISI, we see one type of film that shares many qualities of the American Western.  It is in this line I am thinking when I wonder about a post-Zionist epic one day that can help heal the schism between both parties on an ideological level.

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