Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYJFF ’15: The Zionist Idea
is the only nation in the Middle East that guarantees religious freedom,
respects the human rights of women and the LGBT community, and protects the
environment. Naturally, the UN therefore condemned it, or rather the idea that
led to its founding, as “racist” in what the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan
witheringly described as a “great evil.” As a result, the concept of Zionism
has been misunderstood and deliberately mischaracterized for decades. To some
extent, Joseph Dorman & Oren Rudavsky supply the historical, political, and
cultural context to better understand the maligned movement in the epic-long
(by documentary standards) The Zionist
Idea, which screens during the 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival.
Twentieth Century Zionism and the founding of the State of Israel are
tragically linked to the Holocaust. However, European Jewry were never safe
from pogroms and repression. Indeed, that is still clearly the case today, as
is only too clear in the wake of the French Kosher supermarket hostage crisis.
There was good reason why Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann concluded a Jewish
homeland was essential for their survival as a people.
Rudavsky, and their extensive battery of historians do a fine job of
chronicling the birth of the Zionist movement as we now know it, but Richard
Trank’s It is No Dream: the Life of Theodor Herzl offers a more in-depth and cinematic treatment. Likewise,
Trank’s subsequent The Prime Ministers: the Pioneers and Roberta Grossman’s forthcoming Above and Beyond more compellingly document the nascent state’s
desperate fight against the invasions of its surrounding neighbors.
in a weird way, Zionist Idea perfectly
illustrates the humanist values of Israel, by bending over backwards to cater
to every conceivable critic of Zionism. If you blame Zionism for the bad
service you received in a Tel Aviv beachfront bar, Dorman and Rudavsky will
give you your say. Unfortunately, they are not as accommodating with the West
Bank settler movement, so viewers really ought to check out Dmitriy Khavin’s The Territory for balance.
the level of scholarship collected in Zionist
Idea is certainly impressive, particularly the commentary and personal
recollections of historians like Mordechai Bar-On and Hillel Halkin. While the
style of presentation is rather conventional, the seriousness of the subject
rings through in each and every sequence, making certain blind-spots, like the
historic Taba concessions and the Second Intifada, all the more frustrating.
Through the sheer volume of its one hundred
sixty minute running time, Zionist Idea encompasses
quite a bit of valuable history and intellectual debate. Yet, just like the
nation of Israel, the film tries to be compulsively fair to its possible
detractors. As a result, the final film feels somewhat timid and overly
apologetic, especially in light of recent events, which only reconfirm the
Zionist contentions. Impressive in scope, The
Zionist Idea is still difficult to recommend without considerable
reservations when it screens this Thursday (1/22) and next Monday (1/26) at the
Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s NYJFF.
Labels: Documentary, NYJFF '15