Jewish Voice for Peace, an American organization that has been highly critical of Israel, announced recently that it is “anti-Zionist.” It is certainly a matter of semantics, as the group’s own executive director acknowledged.
“This doesn’t change anything about our focus or our political analysis,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson. “It just names something that hasn’t been named before.”
On the one hand, at least the group is being honest and not hiding behind the ambiguity they had adhered to until now. On the other hand, it represents a progression in the evolution of the anti-Israel movement.
Until just a few years ago, it was rare for people like those in JVP to say they opposed Israel’s existence. They would claim they were merely opposed to a specific policy or direction of the Israeli government. Now, they admit, they don’t think there should be an Israeli government.
In the same interview in which Vilkomerson made the announcement, she also repeated that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.” Again, a few years ago, people said “criticism of Israel is not antisemitism.” This appears to be an evolution.
In what intellectual framework is it acceptable to make a statement like “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”? The undercurrent of the sentence is that, under no circumstances, by any measure, in no way, is anti-Zionism connected with or affected by antisemitism. Progressive people – which is how JVP and many of Israel’s other critics define themselves – would never dream of dismissing the potential of bigotry toward any other ethnic or cultural group.
More egregiously, Vilkomerson overtly contradicts her very words, acknowledging that there are, indeed, antisemites in the movement.
“Obviously, there are people who are antisemitic or anti-Zionist and there are people who mask their antisemitism with anti-Zionist language. That’s a given,” she says, “but that doesn’t paint anti-Zionism as concept.”
Here is what does paint anti-Zionism as concept: it is a movement utterly unconcerned that there is antisemitism and that there are antisemites within it. The leader of JVP admits that her movement attracts antisemites but expresses not a whiff of displeasure or concern. It is what it is.
“Ever since [the advent of] Zionism there has been anti-Zionism within Jewish communities,” she goes on. This is true. Zionism did not reach a consensus point among European and North American Jews until sometime around the Holocaust. When the implications of Jewish statelessness became the gravest in 2,000 years, a massive majority of Jews worldwide abandoned whatever ambivalent positions they had held and (almost entirely) united to create and support Israel.
There is no false corollary here: the state of Israel was not a “consolation prize” for the Holocaust, as has been suggested on more than one occasion. No one gave the state of Israel to the Jewish people; our ancient homeland was won back through a bloody defensive war and has survived and thrived despite massive external opposition.
We will see if other organizations, including similar Jewish groups in Canada, follow JVP’s suit. We will also continue to see primarily non-Jewish groups argue against Israel’s existence based on an anti-nationalist idealism or more nefarious interests. As we watch these developments, it is worth wondering why, as the first target of a battle against the concept of nationalism, “progressive” activists target Israel. Why not France? Why do Hungarians deserve their own country? What makes Norwegians so special that their nationhood is not called into question?
Closer to the point, Why do the Palestinian people deserve a homeland, which is the stated motivating purpose of JVP and so many other groups, while Israelis do not? Can people who declare “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” see how these inconsistencies, including the indifference to Jewish statelessness, might make their protests seem hollow?
Hundreds of thousands of women and allies
marched in cities all over North America Saturday, bringing people from across
the spectrum together to stand for equality and justice. It was the third
annual network of women’s marches that sprang out of the shock and alarm after
the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
To ensure that the nearly spontaneous eruption
of resistance to the direction of American (and world) politics was more than
lightning in a bottle, a movement was solidified in the form of Women’s March
Inc. This body, led by a small group of activists who quickly gained
international fame and recognition, not only came to helm one of the most
remarkable new grassroots movements in American history, they also became
central figures in the cadre of leftist, socialist and progressive political
activists that is loosely defined as “the resistance.”
Unfortunately – or, perhaps, fortunately, for
reasons we’ll explain – the small group of Women’s March leaders has recently
been beset by controversy. In a book-length analysis last month, Tablet
magazine reconstructed accounts of the earliest hours of the march movement –
including the marginalization of Jewish women who were there at the start and
the assertion, apparently made in one of the earliest meetings, that “white
Jews” were partly responsible for “white supremacy.”
Additionally, some of the leaders of Women’s
March Inc. are associated with Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam and
an unrepentant Jew-hater and Hitler admirer who last month capped a career of
antisemitic rhetoric by declaring Jews “satanic.” Tamika Mallory, one of the
most visible faces of the march movement, has referred to Farrakhan as “the
GOAT” – the greatest of all time.
These developments led march organizers in
various cities to disassociate their marches from Women’s March Inc. While some
figures tried to patch over or reconcile divergences within the movement, such
efforts were undermined by top leaders, including Mallory, who appeared on
national TV the Monday before Saturday’s marches. She defended her position on
Israel and Palestine. She declared “the Palestinians are native to the land,”
and that “there are people who have a number of sort of ideologies around why
the Jewish people feel this should be their land. I’m not Jewish. So for me to
speak to that is not fair.” She’s not Palestinian, either, her interviewer
noted, yet she had no qualms defending Palestinians’ right to national
At a time when another organization might aim
for conciliation, Women’s March Inc. leaders seemed to double down on their
troubles. In her keynote speech to the march in Washington Saturday, Linda
Sarsour, another leading figure, expressed support for the BDS movement. While
she had, earlier, finally rejected Farrakhan’s antisemitism and homophobia, her
decision to use her limited time on stage to focus on BDS – an issue peripheral
at best to the women’s movement – suggests she is not finished enflaming
tensions with Jewish people.
Notably, attendance was down at rallies across
the continent, including here in Vancouver. There could be a range of
explanations – Trump-fatigue, weather – but certainly some Jewish and
non-Jewish women were motivated to stay away because of the association of
march leaders with bad ideas.
Within the loose affiliation of “resistance”
figures, several of the individuals elected to the U.S. Congress in November’s
midterm elections have made themselves known for statements about Israel and
Palestine. One of the freshmen, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota,
came under criticism for a 2012 social media post in which she wrote: “Israel
has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the
evil doings of Israel.” She has since said that she didn’t understand the
implications in her choice of words.
Another new legislator, Rashida Tlaib, Democrat
of Michigan, made her entry into Washington known by displaying a map of the
world with a Post-it note with the word “Palestine” covering Israel.
These examples – and there are more – are
disheartening. That these ideas have moved from the recesses of crackpot online
discussion forums and into Congress, into one of the most significant
grassroots organizations and, apparently, into a significant swath of the
Democratic party, is certainly concerning. But there is a silver lining: it
also allows us to openly confront the trend and, perhaps, to gain allies in
When we talk about the need to shine light on
dark crevices of bigotry, this is exactly what we mean. Social media has, for
better or worse, allowed anyone with any views to broadcast them. In the
chaotic network of the internet, there is no practical, central force for
contesting bigotry and other bad ideas. When those ideas and expressions seep
into institutions like Women’s March Inc., Congress or, even more noticeably,
the U.K. Labour party, this presents an opportunity unavailable elsewhere. It
is a chance to bring these issues out in the open and contest them in the light
of day. Among other things, it forces people with power and influence to make a
Among those who made choices in recent weeks –
the choice to withdraw as sponsors of Women’s March Inc. – are prominent
individuals and organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, the
Southern Poverty Law Centre, the women’s political action group EMILY’s List,
the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, the pro-choice organization
NARAL, the Centre for American Progress, and Amnesty International.
This is the kind of unified voice we need: a
concerted rejection of antisemitism or Jew-baiting or Israel-bashing that has
emerged as a force in important places.
Last year, the Students’ Society of McGill University, in Montreal, barred the reelection of three Jewish members of the board of directors. The issue, according to a report undertaken on behalf of the university, was not the students’ Jewishness, but their Zionism. It was, the report concluded, a political issue, not one of discrimination against Jews. There is a great deal to unpack in this story.
B’nai Brith Canada has launched a petition calling for a comprehensive investigation into antisemitism on the campus, noting that the SSMU incident was far from the only concerning episode in recent years.
Sometimes, antisemitism is unequivocal. Swastika graffiti and statements that overtly target Jews for condemnation or murder are uncontestable. But, in many cases, unwitting perpetrators are so unaware of the history of antisemitism and its associated symbols and tropes that they employ antisemitic concepts without consciously knowing it. For example, many images and much of the language of the anti-Zionist movement dovetails with traditional images of scheming Jews merely recast as scheming Zionists or Israelis. Note the term “Israel lobby,” which does not imply a legitimate political position but rather suspect coercion.
With the McGill situation, part of the problem is that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” is often stated as a self-evident truth. A more accurate statement would be “anti-Zionism is not necessarily antisemitism.” Because, sometimes it is. For example, the most casual perusal of online discussions about Israel turns up volumes of images evoking blood libels of the Middle Ages. And the equation of Zionism with Nazism, which can plausibly be denied as explicitly antisemitic, intentionally rubs salt in the most painful of Jewish historical memories. Label such comments as one will, they have the very deliberate effect of inflicting pain on Jews.
And this is the important point here. People can defend their positions by saying that their criticisms are of Israel, not of Jews; that their positions are political, not based on ethnicity or religion. But, as we have said in this space before, outcome matters as well as intent. Israel may be the intended target but Jews feel the effects.
It doesn’t matter that not all Jews are Zionists. It would not matter even if most Jews opposed Zionism. The fact is that opposition to the existence of a Jewish state – which is the definition of “anti-Zionism” – is arguably de facto antisemitic. There are all sorts of defences, of course. Some people claim to oppose all forms of nationalism, yet the practical application of their ideology is to start by boycotting the Jewish state rather than, say, the Mexican, Malaysian or Dutch nations. As well, opposing Zionism, while knowing the historical impacts of Jewish statelessness, including history that took place in the memory of living generations, could be viewed as such disregard for Jewish individual and collective security as to be antisemitic.
Others claim they support Israel’s right to exist, but then take positions that defy these words, such as denying Israel’s right to defend itself, which in effect is a denial of, if not statehood outright, the right of Israeli citizens to live free from terrorist murder and missiles. What name should we give that?
When Jews say they feel singled out because of their Jewish identity or because of their support for a Jewish state, they are met with responses ranging from outright denial of the legitimacy of their experiences to accusations that they are fabricating their concerns as a political weapon. The idea that anti-Zionism is not rife with antisemitism would be more believable if its purveyors acknowledged that such a thing does exist, and condemned it.
On Feb. 6, Igor Sadikov, an elected student representative at McGill University, tweeted “punch a zionist today” (sic). The statement stirred some reaction, though not the universal revulsion that should greet incitement to political violence in Canada. The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), on which Sadikov serves as an elected representative, has declined to condemn him or remove him from his position.
Instead, the brunt of vitriol appears to have been reserved for another member of the SSMU – one who is Jewish. At a public meeting where the violence-inciting statement of a councilor should have been the top agenda item, the tables turned and, instead, Jasmine Segal, a fellow councilor, who told the audience she is a Zionist, was singled out for condemnation.
The McGill Daily, a student-run newspaper that has an explicit policy of refusing to publish anything perceived as pro-Israel, has been a voice on campus emboldening voices like Sadikov’s. In writing about the SSMU meeting – under a header boldly declaring the article “News,” as opposed to commentary or opinion – the paper “reported” that “many at McGill and in the wider world are portraying it as an incitement to antisemitic violence.”
For the education of readers, the author of the piece explained: “This interpretation rests on the conflation of Zionism with Jewishness which, while widely believed, is in fact a misconception; many Jewish people do not identify with the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism or the goals and actions of the state of Israel.”
One member of the audience at the meeting said he felt personally threatened by Sadikov’s tweet, in response to which a student who identified herself as Palestinian declared that she felt unsafe because there is a self-avowed Zionist on council.
“Since SSMU has a social justice mandate,” she asked, according to the Daily account, “why does it allow Zionist councilors on council, when Zionist ideology is inherently [linked to] ethnically cleansing Palestinians?”
On a Facebook post after the meeting, Segal wrote about being targeted by the audience and abandoned by her colleagues on council.
“I was left isolated and alone to respond,” she wrote, in a statement that has been widely shared. “My fellow representatives sat in silence and permitted this malicious, prejudicial and unjustified attack to continue. Instead of rising to state that this abusive conduct would not be tolerated at this meeting and at McGill at large, I was left alone to answer prejudicial questions that should not have had such a platform. I was under attack and did the best I could to try and redirect to the issues of the meeting and … bring down the rising temperature in the room.”
The fact that most of Sadikov’s colleagues on the student society stood by him and that it has been Segal who has been made to feel like the wrongful party is not surprising. It is reflective of a general lack of compassion and listening, including among those who claim to be stewards of social justice and intercultural understanding.
Time was critics would specify that they are condemning policies of the Israeli government, not Israel’s right to exist. Now, the journalistic voice of students at McGill University just declares that the movement for Jewish self-determination has nothing at all to do with Jews, and a student considers themself “unsafe” in the mere presence of an individual who believes the Jewish people have a right to a homeland. Worst of all, even when someone literally calls for violence against fellow human beings, the overall reaction is not to condemn such incitement, but to turn against the Jew in the room.
The entire Jewish community was shocked to witness a spike in antisemitic vandalism in November, with incidents reported in Montreal and Toronto, and at three synagogues and a Jewish community centre, as well as at non-Jewish sites, in our nation’s capital.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) worked closely with targeted institutions and local police to ensure effective measures were taken to protect the community in Ottawa, and the police arrested a suspect who now faces serious criminal charges.
While these ugly crimes remind us that antisemitism – the world’s oldest hatred – still exists, solidarity demonstrated by many proves we are not alone in this battle. Countless leaders, including the prime minister, various members of Parliament, the mayor of Ottawa, police officials, the United Way, and leaders in the Christian, Sikh and Muslim communities, have denounced these incidents. In so doing, they have reminded us of the value of our efforts to build bridges with non-Jewish leaders and communities. Our voices are stronger when united in common cause. From the many communities whose interests, values, and concerns we share, I highlight just three recent examples of CIJA partnerships making an impact.
In October, CIJA was honored to meet with His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Numbering some 10 to 20 million globally, Ahmadis face persecution in much of the Muslim world. In Pakistan, they are denounced as “non-Muslim,” face systemic discrimination and are the target of harassment and terrorist attacks.
CIJA has built a relationship with the Ahmadiyya community of Canada, with whom we have established dialogue and joined in calling on the Canadian government to prioritize religious freedom abroad. The caliph (a non-political position) recently commented on the thriving Ahmadi community near Haifa and underscored his community’s belief in the need to respect all faiths. Canadian Ahmadiyya leaders have shared both their appreciation for Israel as the freest country in the Middle East and their opposition to boycotts targeting the Jewish state.
CIJA continues to enjoy warm friendships with several major Christian organizations, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and various mainstream Protestant denominations.
Last November, CIJA and the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus launched a partnership agreement with CCCB, including a shared commitment to join forces in countering antisemitism and hatred in all its forms. We’ve since worked with CCCB on issues as diverse as Holocaust commemoration, the persecution of Middle East Christians and – in a unique Jewish-Catholic-Evangelical-Muslim partnership – a campaign calling for a national, well-funded palliative care strategy. This latter issue is especially crucial given Canada’s aging population and evidence that far too many patients cannot access high-quality end-of-life care.
We have also mobilized the support of various Christian groups and others, including Sikhs and Muslims, in our effort to strengthen Canada’s hate crime laws. Currently, vandalism targeting places of worship is automatically treated as a hate crime with serious penalties, a designation not applied to incidents involving community centres and schools associated with an identifiable group. Working with our interfaith partners, we are urging MPs to support Bill C-305 to close this loophole in the Criminal Code.
And, while Canadian society has witnessed a generational shift regarding LGBTQ rights, many in this community continue to face bigotry. CIJA is proud to be part of the four-member executive committee overseeing Trans Equality Canada, a coalition leading the advocacy efforts for Bill C-16, which extends hate crime and anti-discrimination protections to the transgender community. This historic legislation passed the House of Commons in November and is now with the Senate.
CIJA’s role in this campaign is unique. We’re the only ethnic or religious community organization at the forefront of what is, arguably, the most important issue concerning the Canadian LGBTQ community today: the rights of transgender Canadians.
This work mirrors the efforts of local CIJA offices and grassroots Jewish groups across Canada building ties with their respective LGBTQ organizations and Pride festivals. For their work in Montreal, our team received an award from the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Quebec.
These relationships don’t just advance human rights. They help ensure we have allies within the LGBTQ community when anti-Zionists attempt to import their bigoted agenda into Pride, just as, in October, Halifax Pride voted down a resolution to ban any mention of Israel from its events.
This is just a sample of the partnership work we’re doing to build a better society for the Jewish community and all Canadians. But it’s a work in progress, and there are countless communities with whom we will seek opportunities to strengthen ties through issues of common cause. If you have suggestions or would like to get involved, connect with us at [email protected].
Shimon Koffler Fogelis chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Soon after he discovered he was Jewish, Csánad Szegedi reached out to Rabbi Boruch Oberlander. Szegedi’s transformation from virulent antisemite to Orthodox Jew is the topic of the documentary Keep Quiet. (photo from Gábor Máté/AJH Films & Passion Pictures)
While this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival holds much that will be of interest to Jewish Independent readers, the list is short when it comes to specifically Israeli or Jewish-related films that will appeal.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Israeli films are harsh critiques of Israel. Beyond the Mountains and Hills (Israel/Germany) is about a dysfunctional family (a metaphor for the country), Junction 48 (Israel/Germany/United States) is about an Arab-Israeli rapper who faces racism, among other Israeli-inflicted ills; Between Fences (Israel/France) is a documentary about Israel’s internment of African refugees at the Holot Detention Centre and Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt (Israel/Canada) is about Hannah Arendt, who, among other things, was critical of Jewish leadership during the Holocaust and did not approve of the state of Israel as it was founded.
Among the other film offerings is Keep Quiet (United Kingdom/Hungary), a documentary about Csánad Szegedi, the staunch antisemite who helped found Hungary’s far-right party Jobbik and its Hungarian Guard, which has since been banned. As a member of the European Parliament, he continued to foment hatred until a fellow nationalist and racist outed him as being Jewish – his grandmother had not been the adopted daughter of the Klein family, as she told him, but their daughter. The documentary includes interviews Szegedi did with his grandmother (about her imprisonment in Auschwitz, and other matters) and a conversation with his mother, who also found out later in life that she was Jewish. He asks both women about his increasing embrace of antisemitism over the years, why didn’t you stop me? Their responses are thought-provoking and sad.
Keep Quiet does not accept Szegedi’s transformation unquestioningly and gives speaking time to the doubters, as well as the cautious believers, such as Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, head of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council in Budapest. Oberlander has supported and taught Szegedi since the former antisemite contacted the rabbi for help. The event that ends the film is Szegedi’s attempt in 2013 to speak in Montreal about his Jewish journey – he wasn’t allowed to stay in the country. Before being put on the next plane home, however, Szegedi recorded a lecture, which was played at the event, with Oberlander fielding the hostility it wrought in some attendees. In Oberlander’s view, we must love every Jew, no matter how wicked. Of his choice to help Szegedi, he says, “I pray that I shouldn’t be disappointed.” Even Szegedi is unsure as to whether he would ever turn his back on Judaism – maybe, he admits, but not likely.
The way in which the filmmakers present Szegedi’s story is informative and balanced, and viewers get a sense of the man and his deeds, as well as about Hungary and how a political party as racist as Jobbik can find success there.
Vita Activa also does a good job of including both fans and critics of Arendt’s work, but mainly uses Arendt’s own words to explain her thoughts and analyses. The film uses as its foundation the Adolph Eichmann trial, about which Arendt wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), describing Eichmann as “a typical functionary,” and thus an example of the “banality of evil.” (Viewers should be warned that there are many disturbing Holocaust-related images in this film.)
“Eichmann was quite intelligent but he had that dumbness,” she tells an interviewer in one of the clips included in the documentary. “It was that dumbness that was so infuriating, and that was what I meant by ‘banality.’ It has no depth; it isn’t demonic. It’s simply the unwillingness to ever imagine what others are going through.”
Another of Arendt’s theories – about refugees – remains relevant. With no rights, refugees are considered “superfluous” by a regime, she argued, and denationalization and xenophobia become a powerful weapon of totalitarian politics.
In Keep Quiet, a political journalist describes Hungary as a “part of the world where history has been manipulated” and the effects that such manipulation has upon generations. Arendt broadens that view beyond Europe, saying, “It has been characteristic of our history of consciousness that its worst crimes have been committed in the name of some kind of necessity or in the name of a mythological future.”
In addition to her early work, Vita Activa touches upon Arendt’s personal life, which offers some further understanding of the philosopher, who was seen by many to lack empathy. In one interview, she talks about how Auschwitz shouldn’t have happened, how she could handle everything else but that. Yet, she criticized the Jewish leadership who cooperated with the Nazis – the councils and kapos – and hypothesized that, if there had been no such leadership, there would have been chaos and suffering and deaths but not six million. One professor interviewed for the documentary calls Arendt’s comments “irresponsible,” another says they showed her complete ignorance of history, yet another says she regretted her remarks later in life.
The film also notes Arendt’s change from supporting Zionism to condemning elements within it. Among other things, she said, “A home that my neighbor does not recognize is not a home. A Jewish national home that is not recognized by and not respected by its neighboring people is not a home, but an illusion, until it becomes a battlefield.” And she pointed to tendencies within Zionism that she considered “plain racist chauvinism” that do “not differ from other master race theories.”
The documentary also covers Arendt’s 1951 Book of Thoughts, in which she contemplates the nature of forgiveness, revenge, reconciliation. For her, the latter doesn’t forgive or accept, but judges. When you take on the burden of what someone else did, she believed, you don’t accept the blame or absolve the other of the blame, but take upon yourself the injustice that occurred in reality. “It’s a decision,” she said, “to be a partner in the accountability, not at all a partner to the guilt.”
Reconciliation and forgiveness don’t enter the picture in either the documentary Between Fences or the fictional (but based on a real person) Junction 48. They each highlight important, even vital, issues in Israeli society, but do so in such a condemnatory, predictable way that anyone but the choir won’t be able to sit through these films.
Without much context, Between Fences looks at the poor situation in which asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan find themselves when they reach the safety of Israel. In many countries, these asylum seekers face problems, but viewers wouldn’t know that from this documentary, nor would they begin to understand the atrocities being committed in their homelands. However, they will learn how Israel doesn’t recognize their refugee status and makes every effort to send them back, how racist Israelis are towards these newcomers and a host of other problems with Israel and its people. Not one government official or Israeli is interviewed, although some Israelis participate in the “theatre of the oppressed” workshops in Holot on which the film focuses. In addition to leaving many questions unanswered, the film also begins and ends confusingly and is slow-paced.
Bias also makes Junction 48 almost unwatchable for anyone who would like to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved, so that both peoples’ rights and safety are ensured. From the second sentence of the opening, the perspective is made clear: “The Israeli city of Lod is the Palestinian city of Lyd, which once sat on the main railway junction. In 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinians were exiled from Lyd in order to resettle the town with Jews….”
We then meet Kareem, an aspiring young rapper, whose parents are worried about his involvement with drug dealers and his future in general. His friends not only deal and take drugs, but visit prostitutes and dabble in other criminal activity. Nonetheless, every Israeli they encounter is the real bad guy, from the police to other rappers to the government, which is knocking down one of their homes to build a coexistence museum. Oh, the irony.
The only entertaining and thought-provoking aspect of this film is the music by lead actor and film co-writer Tamer Nafar, which is available online.
In the end, the Jewish Independent chose to sponsor what a VIFF programmer called a “classic Jewish comedy,” though, having seen a screener of the film, the Jewish aspect is hard to discern. While much lighter (and non-political) fare than the other offerings, it has much to say – or show, really, as the dialogue is minimal – about social awkwardness and a lack of direction in life. The protagonist, Mike, works at a pizza place in New Jersey and has the energy level of a slug and the magnetism of zinc. Yet, somehow, he has friends, albeit not great ones.
Short Stay is one of those films that moves apace with its main character, so slowly and in all different directions, as Mike both physically wanders the streets and mentally wanders to destinations unknown. Viewers don’t gain insight into what motivates Mike, who seems unperturbed by his lack of career, social skills, direction and future, but they root for him, empathize with what must be his loneliness.
Short Stay director Ted Fendt best describes the acting of the nonprofessional cast, many (all?) of whom are his friends. “The film contains a range of performance styles from the fairly natural (Marta and Meg), to Mark and Dan’s B movie ‘villains,’ who might have stepped out of an Ulmer or Moullet film, to the quasi-Bressonian, unaffected manner Mike delivers his lines.” And therein is a Jewish link, Edgar G. Ulmer.
Another Jewish filmmaker – Vancouver’s Ben Ratner – will be premièring his short film, Ganjy, at this year’s festival. About a former boxer suffering from dementia pugilistica, who is in desperate need of help when three friends visit, Ganjy was inspired in part by Muhammad Ali. Its creators are looking to fundraise enough to take the film to other festivals, as well as contribute to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centre. For more information, visit indiegogo.com/projects/ganjy-film#.
For more information about and the full schedule of films playing at VIFF, visit viff.org.
Note: This article has been edited so that it is clear Hannah Arendt was speaking of tendencies within Zionism that she considered “plain racist chauvinism” that do “not differ from other master race theories,” and not condemning Zionism as a whole.
Britain’s Labor Party is going through a crisis as successive low-level and, more recently, senior members of the party express antisemitic attitudes.
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a Laborite familiarly known as “Red Ken,” told television audiences last week that Hitler was a Zionist, repeating a common and despicable theory usually limited to musty corners of the internet, implying that the Holocaust was all a ploy to engender sympathy that would lead to the creation of the state of Israel. Livingstone apologized if people had taken offence to his words but did not apologize for what he said.
Around the same time as Livingstone – a stalwart of the party’s left for decades – was getting in hot water, so was Naz Shah, a party rising star. The MP accused Israel of behaving like Nazis and suggested that Israel be relocated to the United States, an explicit call for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the last refuge of the Middle East where they have not yet been eliminated.
The conflict broke into the open, at least in the international media, in February, when one of the co-chairs of the Labor club at Oxford University resigned, declaring that a large proportion of club members have “some kind of problem with Jews.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor Party leader whose own record of allegiances leans more toward Hamas and Hezbollah than it does toward democratic, Jewish Israel, has called an inquiry into antisemitism in his party. Yet, this did not stop one of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet members and closest allies from dismissing allegations that the Labor Party has a problem with Jews as a “smear.” And some have declared the condemnations of antisemitism in the party a “new McCarthyism.”
While all of this sounds like bad news – and it’s hard to argue that the presence of antisemitism in one of the Western world’s major political parties is anything but – there is a silver lining.
The fact is that ideas like these have been percolating on the left and elsewhere for years. They are expressed daily in certain forums on the internet and pop up in private conversation even among people who are respected and trusted on other topics.
In recent years, we have seen individual eruptions of outlandish accusations against Israel – indeed, “apartheid,” “genocide” and accusations of Nazism and the perpetration of a holocaust are accusations thrown routinely at the tiny outpost of democracy. That antisemitic outbursts in Britain’s Labor Party have reached a critical mass that could no longer be dismissed as the unrelated rantings of misguided individuals has led to a much-needed confrontation over the topic. Now, the party must confront and address the problems in its ranks.
From a Canadian perspective, this has particular interest, because our New Democratic Party, in some ways a child of the British parent party, is entering into a period of reflection and reinvention. Its last two leaders, the late Jack Layton and the recently defenestrated Thomas Mulcair, tried to eradicate from their party not-uncommon expressions of anti-Zionism that sometimes relied on anti-Jewish prejudice as an accelerant. The spectacular failure of the Mulcair-led NDP in the last election is leading some to say that a turn to the more extreme left is, if not an electorally advantageous move, at least an ideologically pure way forward. Such recidivism would almost certainly involve some rehabilitation of old anti-Israel fixations.
Yet, it is always better to shine light under these rocks than to allow these ideas to mutate. In Britain right now, we are seeing the predictable illogical extremes to which unchecked anti-Zionism can lead. It will be informative to watch the public discussion that transpires. Though differences are vast, the political cultures of Canada and Britain still have some strong parallels. Perhaps, if Britain confronts in this matter now, Canada will not need to later.