In a piece in the Forward, the critic Keith Kahn-Harris notes that “a common theme in pro-Israel discourse is that critics of Israel are ‘obsessed’ with the Jewish state.” He has a point. “Israel,” he notes, occupies “a place in the pantheon of leftist bugbears out of all proportion to the size of the country and the (undoubted) wrongs it has committed.” (Indeed, it clearly does so in this magazine.) But Kahn-Harris is surely right to note as well that this obsession is hardly confined to leftists and anti-Zionists. “Its defenders are equally convinced of its importance as a touchstone of moral and political rectitude.”
As Joel Schalit writes in Israel vs. Utopia, “The failure of both the Right and the Left in the Diaspora to see Israel as it actually is constitutes a subtle but pernicious form of intellectual imperialism.” What’s more, the insistent focus on the purely political (and religious) aspects of the conflict blind us to the complicated reality that underlies them in everyday life. I recently read in The Nation that “if the [Palestinian Authority] collapses…it will strip off the mask that there is anything in the territories beyond Israeli occupation.” Now, this cannot be literally true, as an awful lot of life–even political life–occurs on the West Bank independent of the occupation. But it is also apparently belied by developments reported by Avi Issacharoff on December 19 in Ha’aretz, who notes, “The current situation in the West Bank is one of the best, if not the best, since 1948. Quiet prevails in the streets of every city there, the economy is starting to take off, the civilian police are maintaining law and order, and even the courts, despite their tremendous caseload, are upgrading their activity with every passing week…. A Palestinian journalist said this week that the situation in the West Bank is not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ A survey published this week by Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shows that 63 percent of West Bank residents feel secure.”
A useful corrective for Americans to the one-dimensional picture presented by both left and right is evident in the contemporary renaissance in the Israeli film industry, where one frequently finds empathetic and realistic portrayals of Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians that rarely manage to pierce the conflict-focused journalistic coverage dominating left, right and center of the media.
Readers may be familiar with recent releases of films like Waltz With Bashir, Beaufort and The Lemon Tree, but the cavalcade continues. Two films that have been generating a great deal of admiration and excitement this year are Ajami, which showed at the 2009 Hamptons Film Festival and will appear in the 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center in January, and Jaffa, which also appeared at the Hamptons, as well as the 2009 Israel Film Festival in New York and the much smaller, Arab-focused Other Israel Film Festival, which, significantly, had its home at the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.