Beyond ‘Israelism’: Understanding the complexities of Israel

Without any context or nuance, the film is much more of a propaganda stunt than education.
(Photo: Israelism)

At its core, “Israelism” — the new documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s portrayal within the American Jewish community — is a movie characterized by strong opinions presented as facts.

The film presents a misleading narrative, using selective anecdotes that fail to capture the nuanced realities of one of the most complex conflicts in human history. 

It labels anyone who disagrees with its point of view as “indoctrinated,” dismissing the legitimate reasons many have for supporting Israel and its foundational principles. 

To learn more about those legitimate reasons, read Unpacked’s article, “What is Zionism? 6 different types of Zionist thinking.

Throughout, “Israelism” selectively highlights violent periods in Israel’s history, only showing Israeli forces while entirely omitting acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians.

To be clear, like any other nation, Israel is not perfect — for instance, the film discusses the border wall between Israel proper and the West Bank. It refers to the barrier as the “apartheid wall” and as being a hindrance to peace. 

However, without providing the nuance as to why the border wall was erected, there is a failure to acknowledge the complexity of the topic. Such as the fact that the wall was only constructed after a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s.

Without any context or nuance, the film is much more of a propaganda stunt than education.

Had I not known the film’s aim beforehand — to convince American Jews to reevaluate their relationship with Israel by demonizing the country — I would have thought it was satire. 

For those who haven’t seen the film, it features Simone Zimmerman, a founding member of IfNotNow, who describes American-Jewish support of Israel as propaganda funded by the Israeli government. 

Yet, Zimmerman overlooks the fact that the film in which she appears represents the same kind of advocacy she accuses the vast majority of U.S. Jews of practicing. 

The film presents the resurgence of antisemitism as exclusively a far-right phenomenon and even blames it on Jews who support Israel.

However, the rise in antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war shows that anti-Jewish hate comes from both the political right and left. Last month at Tulane University, several Jewish students were assaulted at a Jewish Voices for Peace rally, an organization known for its far-left stance. 

Not to mention that one of the film’s “experts,” activist Noura Erakat, seems to endorse ethnic cleansing of Jews, stating that “Jews have no place in a future Palestine” while advocating for a free Palestine from the river to the sea. This slogan is notorious for implying the eradication of Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Additionally, the documentary makes sweeping accusations against Israel, labeling it an apartheid and genocidal state, yet it fails to define these terms or support these claims with evidence.

In its portrayal of the Nakba, a pivotal event in Palestinian history, the film tells the story of Baha Hilo, whose family left Jaffa in 1948, intending to return after the end of hostilities.

The Nakba is indeed a tragedy in the history of Palestinians, but this account omits the complex circumstances and broader context of what happened. 

In 1947, Arab nations rejected the U.N. Partition Plan and then launched a wave of terror attacks on Jews, attempting to undermine the hope for stability promised by the Partition Plan. 

Despite these threats, Israel’s provisional government declared an independent Jewish state on May 14, 1948, in accordance with the Partition Plan. The following day, seven surrounding armies invaded newborn Israel.

Many Palestinians left their homes, anticipating a quick Arab victory and planning to return once the conflict ended. However, Israel won the war and they didn’t return. Some Palestinians were instructed by Arab leaders to evacuate in order to make way for strategic military operations.

It is also acknowledged by historians like Anita Shapira that Israeli forces did expel portions of the Arab population. However, the reality of these expulsions during this war is far more complex and multifaceted than “Israelism” makes it out to be. 

This is just one of many examples where the film tries to simplify an extremely complex topic.

What is most concerning about the film is its attempt to portray anyone who supports Israel as anti-Palestinian.

It describes far-left Jews as righteous while characterizing Jews who support Israel as Jewish supremacists.

Zimmerman and Eitan, the documentary’s central figures, are self-described human rights advocates who label everyone with a different opinion as human rights abusers.

This binary leaves no room for the nuanced and necessary conversations that need to happen.

The film’s ultimate argument is that unless you agree with a niche, far-left Jewish movement, you are brainwashed and far-right. 

Well, I guess the film never considered that people can support Israel for legitimate reasons — because it is the sole democracy in the Middle East, with a multicultural, diverse and free society, or because it is the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. 

“Israelism” wants you to believe that your support for Israel is through indoctrination and propaganda, implying that Zionists lack the ability to use Google or think for themselves.

The reality is that over 80% of U.S. Jews support Israel, transcending race, religious denomination, and political affiliation. This stands in stark contrast to the niche far-left and Reform group of Jews represented in the film.

Israel is a dynamic, multicultural, and nuanced society, nestled into one of the most complicated geopolitical regions of the world. No one is saying to blindly support Israel, but Israelism is saying to blindly hate Israel, and one should never be blind when carrying such strong emotions.

Read more: When professors cross the line into antisemitism on social media

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