Category Archives: Israel

“We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel” by Daniel Gordis— A Reevaluation

Gordis, Daniel. “We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel”, Ecco,  2019.

A Reevaluation

Amos Lassen

I believe that we can all agree that relations between the American Jewish community and Israel are at an all-time low. We are all aware of this and often see and feel it in daily conversations. Having spent a good part of my life in Israel, I am not surprised but I will tell you that it hurts to hear Jews being vocally negative about Israel. “Since Israel’s founding seventy years ago, particularly as memory of the Holocaust and of Israel’s early vulnerability has receded, the divide has grown only wider.” Most explain this on the way that Israel handles its conflict with the Palestinians, her attitude toward non-Orthodox Judaism, and her “dismissive attitude” toward American Jews. Daniel Gordis in “We Stand Divided” shows that the cause such division comes from “not what Israel is; it’s what Israel does.” Gordis reevaluates the tensions between the community in Israel and our community here and he does so by reimagining the past, present, and future of Jewish life.

We see that from the very beginning the founders of both Jewish communities had to deal with “different threats and opportunities, and had very different ideas of how to guarantee a Jewish future.” Israel and America have fundamentally different ideas about issues ranging from democracy and history to religion and identity.  We must try to heal this division but in order to do so, both communities must acknowledge and discuss their deep differences and their moral commitments. Otherwise there is really no hope for them to move forward together.

I often feel personally hurt when I hear people speaking against Israel especially after having served in the Israel Defense Forces during dangerous times. I am worried about the future of both Jewish communities and I often wake up with a sense of fear that is not easy to shake. The relationship between American Jews and Israeli Jews has always held a sense of foreboding except perhaps during the jubilation after the Six-Day War in 1967. I do find it interesting how that jubilation has soured and how we forget how we publicly danced the hora in celebration.

Gordis writes with intelligence about the ongoing ideological tensions and how they might be resolved and he does so with great passion. This is a book we have needed for a quite a while if we really want to understand  American Jewish-Israel relations. Perhaps the most surprising fact we learn here is that this division is not new and has always been there but never so widely spoken of as it is today. Gordis shows us how and where the disconnect began and then looks to the future where he imagines “deepened mutual appreciation aimed at sustaining one unified Jewish people.”

What I find so hard to understand are those American Jews who claim to take on the progressive values of this country and then become sympathetic to the enemies of the Jewish state above their sympathy for Israel. Gordis shows that this and other explanations for the division are so much deeper and that, in actuality, “the two communities’ dreams for a Jewish future had little in common.”

American Jews and Israelis see different opportunities and over time, two radically diverging visions of Jewish life came forward. As noted earlier, the two communities must acknowledge and  then talk about “their profoundly different purposes and moral commitments. Only then can they forge a path forward, together.”

Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with My Most Challenging Client” by Alan M. Dershowitz

Dershowitz, Alan M. “Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with My Most Challenging Client”,  All Points Books, 2019.

Defense and Criticism

Amos Lassen

Alan Dershowitz, the world famous lawyer, shares stories from his many years of defending the state of Israel who he says has been his “most challenging client”―the state of Israel. Dershowitz has had both publicly and in private meetings with high level international figures, including every US president and Israeli leader of the past 40 years. In “Defending Israel”, he shares personal insights and unreported details. He gives us a comprehensive history of modern Israel from his perspective as, he says, one of the country’s most important supporters. We read of the high profile controversies and debates that Dershowitz was involved in over the years as we see the political tides changing and the liberal community becoming increasingly critical of Israeli policies.

We can also see this as an updated defense of the Jewish homeland on numerous points. and Dershowitz’s criticisms of Israeli decisions and policies that he believes to be unwise. Today, many Jewish Americans are increasingly uncertain as to who supports Israel and who doesn’t. Dershowitz maintains that this book has answers and is a pragmatic look toward the future. However, it is to be read as his opinions.

“When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History” by Massoud Hayoun— Reclaiming Identity

Hayoun, Massoud. “When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History”, The New Press , 2019.

Reclaiming Identity

Amos Lassen

“When We Were Arabs” is Hayoun Massoud’s account of his grandparents’ lives in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Los Angeles and in it he reclaims his family’s Jewish Arab identity. I have often wondered why we consider all Arabs to be Muslims when they are not. We confuse ethnicity with religion and we must remember that there

was a time when being an “Arab” didn’t mean someone was necessarily Muslim. There was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, walked along the Nile in a fashionable suit, long before he and his father came to Haifa to join the Zionist state but to find themselves hosed down with DDT and then left unemployed on the margins of society. Then to be an Arab was a mark of cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Oscar’s son, the Jewish Arab journalist Massoud Hayoun whom Oscar raised in Los Angeles, tells his family’s story in order to find his voice.

Hayoun wanted to reclaim his Arab identity as, part of a larger project to recall a time before ethnic identity was used for political ends. It is also a personal journey into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that is now almost lost. He brings the words of his grandparents back to life by eschewing today’s contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how battle lines over this have been drawn. He brings together his family history and politics that shaped their lives and presents further understanding of complex identities and mixed cultural heritages. To do this, he uses family lore, journals, and photographs to tell his grandparents’ story and shows a lost multicultural era in the Arab world.  This is a story of survival and success and an intriguing one at that. It is his goal “to obliterate our brittle understandings of what is Jewish, Arab, and radically loving.” We become very aware of the postcolonial foundations of contemporary Arab American identity.
We do not often hear the term Arab Jew without propaganda or prejudice. The book chronicles how the nuance that had been there in “Jewish Arab political identities disappeared under the onslaught of Zionism.” I would have preferred a different word to “onslaught” or even an explanation why Hayoun chose to use that term.

“When We Were Arabs” revolves around Hayoun’s own family’s painful experience of having to leave their homeland and it certainly is not a nostalgic look back at a better time.  Arabs/Muslims and Jews have not been at each other’s throats for thousands of years. Arab Jews were an integral and integrated part of their communities whose lives that were enmeshed with those of their Christian and Moslem neighbors. Arab Jews were at times oppressed by the mightier and more corrupt, but no more so than other poor, non-Jewish Arabs. Hayoun also exposes how the colonial powers, in partnership with European Jews, forced the Arab Jewish community to cuts its millennial old religious and cultural traditions. Traditional divide and conquer strategies were used to separate Arab Jews from their neighbors. The methods used were, so the writer says, first by the Zionist movement and then by a nascent Israel, to force mass migration of Arab Jews to Israel. There were strategies used to drive the mass emigration of Iraqis to Israel letting us see that this is not a new idea.

However, between the beautiful prose and the author’s ideas is his problem with the State of Israel. We cannot help but sense his very strong feelings against the country and it builds page by page. Some of his claims against Israel are unfounded (or it they are found, then the programs are totally secretive). I cannot believe that Zionists brought about attacks against Jews in the Middle East in order to frighten them into moving to Israel. Hayoun also writes about what he calls “peaceful protests in Gaza,” without writing about the flaming kites, condoms with IEDs, and Palestinian children sent to the front with weapons. The author’s biases are exaggerated to the point of disbelief. I say wanted to like this book but some of the statements make it impossible to do so. But then I am an Israeli/American and, of course, that colors my way of thinking.

I do, on the other hand, like the way that preconceived notions of what Arabness and Jewishness means is handled. This is a well-documented history of Arab Jews, and colonialism in the Arab world but I wanted to know more about Hayoun’s actual background, with his family.

“DOUZE POINTS”— “Fiction Flirts With Reality”

“DOUZE POINTS”

“Fiction Flirts With Reality”

 In “Douze Points”, the Islamic State plans for a French contestant to carry  out a spectacular terror attack on the air.  Mossad agents do their best to foil it. This  is a crazy Israeli film on Eurovision in Israel.

Rasoul Abu-Marzuk and Tarik Jihad were childhood best friends who grew up together in the Muslim quarter of Paris until Tarik decided to come out of  the closet at the age of 15. It was at that moment that Rasoul turned his back on his best friend and Tarik was excommunicated from his community.

10 years later Tarik is now TJ, a proud, gay singer that has left his past behind and lives like there is no tomorrow, fulfilling his dream to represent France in Europe’s biggest song contest. Rasoul has taken a different path. He followed his extremist, Islamic father, Abbas, and is now part of an ISIS terror cell in Paris. ISIS decides that the 2019 Europe song contest, set to take place in Israel, is a great opportunity for their biggest terror attack ever!!! They plan to plant one of their operatives into the French delegation at the contest in order to set off an explosion under the stage during the final performance of the event.

 The ISIS cell will make sure that TJ represents France at the European song contest and that one of their members will be under-cover, acting as TJ’s boyfriend. What TJ doesn’t know is that ISIS is planning to carry out the lethal attack, and that his “boyfriend” is none other than Rasoul.

The Israeli Mossad does know about the planned attack and they put their toughest, most experienced team into the contest in order to prevent a major catastrophe.  

 “SPIDER IN THE WEB”— Maintaining Relevance

 “SPIDER IN THE WEB”

Maintaining Relevance

Amos Lassen

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis brings us a new spy drama starring Ben Kingsley as an aging Mossad agent who is struggling to maintain his relevance. He bonds with a younger operative sent to monitor him while he’s on a secret mission in Europe and this is a reflection on human relationships as well as “on the Europe of today – fragile, troubled, under constant threats from the outside and in turmoil on the inside.”

Adereth (Sir Ben Kingsley), is a once-lauded but now aging field agent of the Israeli Mossad and his superiors feel that he is past his prime. There are those above him that are sure that he’s been fabricating intelligence to maintain his relevance and so they send Daniel (Itay Tiran) a young operative to insure that Adereth does not deviate from his mission to deliver crucial information regarding a sale of chemical weapons to a Middle Eastern dictatorship that he claims is waiting for him. This information leads to the mysterious Angela (Monica Bellucci), who might be a target, a lover or an enemy. (or all of these or none of these). Lines of trust become blurred and Adereth realizes the hunter may become the hunted. 

Naturally the art of seduction plays a role and there are many double-crosses  as we move toward the end of the film. As you are on the edge of your seat, it all comes together but only after you have been confused by the somewhat convoluted plot. The basic theme seems to be that if one wears a mask, he/she may not know who he/she is once it is removed and this certainly says something about those wearing masks today.

Adereth has had quite a good career with the Mossad and his successes compensate for his personal sacrifices. Eventually he feels that he needs pats on the back and the feeling of being useful so that he does not regret what he has missed in life. As he gets older his successes become less frequent and his contacts less valuable but he cannot stand the idea that once he is no longer a spy, he will not have any importance.

So instead of just fading away, Adereth chooses to add to the reports that he gets from his contacts. In particular, he added to the dossier results in 50,000 troops amassing on the border of Syria. Just as he is discovered to be pretending, he finds real information that could save his reputation and the life he has lost through lying. 

Director Riklis brings us a spy film without much action  and that depends on reality being obscured by lies. We sense how it will all end because we know that lies often get out of control of the person who tells it. Kingsley is bitter but he accepts his fate as he tries to find some kind of redemption when  no one believes what he says. Having a bit of familiarity with the Mossad, I can think of no crueler fate for an agent.

We are kept on our toes from scene to scene and we find it becomes difficult to stay on the side of a character who just may not be what he seems to be. The subplot of main romance, between Adereth and Angela just did not work for me but it does provide a respite from the thrilling aspects of the plot. 

The film is able to convince the viewer what living as a liar among other liars is like. As difficult as it is to follow all of the twists and turns, we still get a rewarding experience with “Spider in the Web”. to convincingly weave what it must be like to live as just another liar amongst many. The over-complicated plot twists, however, will leave many scratching their heads.

“THE DEAD OF JAFFA”— The Past Haunts the Present in Israel


“THE DEAD OF JAFFA”

The Past Haunts the Present in Israel

Amos Lassen

Ram Loevy is known for his cutting-edge political works. He began his career in 1966 with the documentary “My Name is Ahmad,” which shocked his audience by putting a dispossessed Arab at the center of his narrative. His 1978 television film “Khirbet Khize” portrayed the expulsion of Palestinians by Israeli troops in 1948, and questioned the morality of Israel’s actions. It was censored in Israel and its broadcast of “became a major debate. It earned Ram Loevy a reputation as a filmmaker who would take on a deeply politicized system. His films gave an unprecedented voice to the Israeli underclass: the 1986 television drama “Bread” is an Israeli classic. Loevy  has made dozens of narrative and documentary movies for television, which won him the prestigious Israel Prize. But only now, at 79,  he has directed his first feature for the big screen. Written by Loevy’s longtime collaborator, the late Israeli writer Gilad Evron and a Palestinian-Israeli author, Ala Hlehel, “The Dead of Jaffa” was sixteen years in the making. It is both a debut, and a culmination of a career.

It continues the conversation started in “Khirbet Khize.” However, where the earlier film narrated the events of 1948, the new one fuses history with current events, by intertwining two plotlines. The main plotline springs into action when three children from the West Bank are smuggled into Israel. With their mother dead, and their father serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail, they are effectively orphaned. They arrive at the home of George (Yussuf Abu-Warda) and Rita (Ruba Bilal-Asfour), Palestinian citizens of Israel living in Jaffa. George and Rita, who may or may not be the kids’ relatives, are a couple without children. For Rita, the children’s arrival is an answer to her desire to be a mother. George is more cautious since he lives in a world where even a friendly neighborhood cop hunts down and brutally arrests “illegal infiltrators” from the West Bank and harboring the orphans is an enormous risk.

The three children are traumatized, but where the younger two are just thrilled to be with loving adults again, the older one, Talal (Jihad Babay), is a rebellious teenager with a budding political consciousness. He sneaks into an abandoned house nearby. George finds him and, in order to dissuade Talal from the property, tells him “This is a house of dead people.” In fact, it is the house of Palestinians expelled in 1948, which George’s family has been protecting from Israeli appropriation. But Talal is stubborn and he stays. As he looks out of the house’s window, he sees a window into the past, as the courtyard nearby comes alive with people and music. A Palestinian family in 1940s dress is preparing for a celebration. Three girls in blue dresses prepare to dance. A whirling dervish begins and as he starts to twirl, he floats into the air in a scene full of cinematic magic.

Alas, they are not ghosts, but actors and extras in a foreign film that’s being photographed in the neighborhood. Their presence starts the secondary plotline. A British director (Jonny Phillips) is there to recreate the love story of his parents that started when both were stationed in Mandate Palestine. He is entitled and oblivious and the way he acts with neighborhood people  is a replication of the colonial hierarchies from the time he is trying to depict. The two plotlines come together when he asks George to play the small part of a Palestinian doctor. George agrees but does not quite understanding what the role entails. The scene of the filming symbolizes the place of Palestinians both then and now: the camera depicts multiple takes, in each one of them, an actor playing the British soldier shoots George’s character. George is to fall, covered in blood, again and again, visibly retraumatized by the experience. Talal, who was watching the entire scene from the side, confronts him: “You let them kill you!”

The  climatic moment comes when the crew recruits people from the neighborhood to act as extras for the street protest scene. At first, the locals giggle. But gradually, they get into it, their chants of “Free Palestine!” grow stronger, and Talal, swept by emotion joins the demonstration. Soon, he is leading it, throwing real, rather than prop rocks towards the actors in the uniforms of British police. The make-believe protest becomes real,  as past and present fuse, and tensions erupt. The events come to the fore when the procession reaches the checkpoint of the real Israeli police, who jump into action. “The Dead of Jaffa” doesn’t have a happy ending and considering the burden of violence past and present.

The film’s strongest element is the story of the Jaffa couple, George and Rita, their petit-bourgeois life undone by the children. They are torn between their emerging parental responsibility and very real fear of police retribution. Their drama is deeply felt due to the moving performances of Abu-Warda and Bilal-Asfour, as well as a Babay. They fully inhabit their complex characters. Just as  convincing are the characters of their friends and neighbors, their Arabic dialog, still rare on Israeli screens, occasionally adds humor to the heartbreak. In contrast, the characters of the British director and his actors might seem less developed. But their story is important since it allows the film to engage not only with the history but with memory and representation of the 1948 events. In the fictional film-within-the-film, the Arab dispossession appears only as a colorful backdrop in a British family saga. The historical locals are relegated to the fringe of the narrative and their story is again silenced. Their absence from historical narrative haunts the present.

This absence is symbolic of the place of the Nakba in the Israeli public consciousness. In national cinema, the events of 1948 have been normally represented from the Israeli-Zionist vantage point of portraying heroic sacrifices in the War for Independence for the sake of nation-building. The very few filmmakers who have dared to touch the subject are either iconoclasts working largely outside of Israeli system.

“The Dead of Jaffa” leaves us with  profound thoughts about the collective memory of Nakba and about its aftermath. It is a cinematic achievement in that it brings together Israeli and Palestinian realities and memories that are real and imagined.

“OUR BOYS”— An Israeli-Palestinian True crime Story

“OUR BOYS”

An Israeli-Palestinian True crime Story

Amos Lassen

HBO brings us yet another series about a crises and this one, viewers might be all too familiar with: Israel and Palestine. But “Our Boys” has a true-crime story that may not be as well known, regarding the tensions that were created over kidnappings in the summer of 2014, which were in political reaction to each other.

 “Our Boys” is very much like a missing child epic with its first episode (of 10) starting with the disappearance of three Israeli boys in Jerusalem. By the end of episode one, their bodies have been discovered, and the police are trying to keep an eye out for any revenge plots, while at the same time controlling the public narrative. It was a given that people were going to be upset—and reactive—and even the media statements by the parents of the missing children have to be monitored so much as to not rile up angry crowds. 

But then “Our Boys” moves onto a revenge plot by episode two, and in its first big setback, it doesn’t give the opening kidnapping storyline a fulfilling conclusion. It instead focuses on the disappearance of an Arab boy named Muhammad (Ram Masarweh), whose fate leads to another political mess and PR disaster, especially while the outraged people in his East Jerusalem neighborhood scream for justice, and start to become destructive. We have a personal angle by following his grieving father, Hussein (Jony Arbid), who learns in due time that his son is no longer as private affair, but that of hundreds of thousands of people. He watches a wave of people forcefully claim his son (so to speak), and he realizes that he has a better chance at changing the literal direction of the angry crowd than in having a proper private sense of grief. 

 “Our Boys” becomes a kind of procedural into investigating the disappearance, as police collaborate with the Israel Security Agency (known as Shabak) to use expansive surveillance, hacked phones, and anything else they can use to hear or see to track possible suspects. The main investigator Simon (Shlomi Elkabetz) moves back and forth from a monitor-filled control room to the streets, sometimes wearing his yarmulke as a means to go under cover, investigating some Jewish men who could be related to the incident. But tensions are so high that arrests must be 100% certain, otherwise the turmoil across the land could get worse. We go through the step-by-step process. 

Even with a story like this, given all of its inherent conflicts, “Our Boys” is frustratingly slack. Part of that feels to be because of its length—it’s a series that runs for ten 55-minute episodes, and seemingly features every minor interaction that could possibly move the plot along. However, visual storytelling feels limited to handheld camerawork and cross-cutting between different narratives. Had the narrative been curated carefully with its investigative beats, the series would retain the necessary tension that causes the strong cast. to often wrestle with massive emotions in a time of personal and political strife becoming intertwined. The series wants to get into everyone’s head, and only sometimes conveys the urgency of a parent’s pain, or the anger of someone who feels attacked, wanting to retaliate. We spend a fair amount of time with a group of young Jewish men, including the meek Avishai (Adam Gabay) and his leader, Yosef (Ben Melech), himself the son of a revered rabbi. It’s in these long stretches, watching these men as they celebrate the Sabbath—and sneak away to break its rules that “Our Boys” wants to pull some truth out of the religious, conservative community but “Our Boys” can’t quite do so and this causes the pacing of the series to suffer.  

The series’ intrigue appears to be held together by Shlomi Elkabetz, whose performance as the investigator at the center is calming but weighed down. His constant slouch and cool nature shows him to be someone who is methodical and yet privately imperfect and this is certainly often more fascinating than the muted conversational scenes he’s always in. 

The biggest curiosity within “Our Boys” is in hearing both sides, while not casting judgment. It bounces around between different sides and always points out their neighborhoods, and every now and then you’ll see the distinction between how someone who is Jewish or Arabic feels about the injustice at hand. Everyone has an assumption about who could have done such unspeakable things, and it’s based on their biases. Effectively, “Our Boys” even plants these characters within news footage, and expands the scope of the story from the image of intimate conversations to massive, raucous crowd scenes, the latter provided by footage from the real events. 

One has to give HBO credit for bringing this project to life but “Our Boys” feels like a saga that desperately needs to be reined in, especially as it can’t even maintain the sense of nervous conflict that initially inspired it.

Five years ago, the murder of four teens sparked a 50-Beginning on June 12, 2014, when three Israeli Jewish adolescents hitchhiking home from an Israeli settlement in the West Bank went missing. Their disappearance led to a wide-ranging search for their abductors, called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” which saw the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians.

The search efforts ended on June 30 when the teens’ bodies were discovered in a field near Hebron. (The suspects, Hamas members Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu-Isa, remained at large until they were killed by the IDF in a September 23 shootout.) On July 2, a day after the teens were buried, three Jewish settlers seeking revenge for their death abducted a 16-year-old Palestinian boy from the steps of his father’s store in Shuafat, East Jerusalem. The boy’s burned body was found in a forest on the outskirts of the city.

By July 8, in the midst of responding riots in Arab neighborhoods and rocket fire from the Gaza strip, Israel and Gaza were at war. These killings and the conflict that followed — codenamed “Operation Protective Edge” by the IDF are still vivid in the collective memory of Israelis and Palestinians, but accounts of precisely what happened often diverge. When filmmakers Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu Wael came together to make a fictional portrait of these events, they decided the best practice would be to allow for contradictions.

The audience will get two separate stories around the same event,” Cedar told The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren. To capture these dual narratives, Cedar, an Israeli Jew, wrote and directed the scenes that followed the Israeli Jewish narrative, and Abu Wael, the Palestinian thread of the story. In cases where the plots overlapped, both directors were on set. However, the point of view of the series was filmed in Israel by an Israeli studio and is predominantly Israeli.

Abu Wael has stated that “[Hamas] didn’t start [the conflict] with the kidnapping of the three boys” and “Palestinians are killed every week by Israeli soldiers, they have permission to do it because of the occupation.” But the first two episodes take an even-handed but at times evasive approach.

The show opens with real-world news footage about the missing hitchhikers, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah. Levi said that the filmmakers judged that a dramatization of the teenagers’ abduction would be too close to home. However, the parents of the murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir gave their blessing for him to be included as a character and the final days of his life occupy much of the series’ first episode. His death is kept offscreen; the search for its perpetrators is what drives the early action.

“Our Boys” in its early episodes is a kind of crime procedural focused on the death of Abu Khdeir reflecting on the nature of Israeli “aggression,” rather than victimhood.

The series begins as the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, tries to get ahead of any plans Jewish nationalists might have to retaliate against Palestinians for the murder of Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah. After Abu Khdeir is abducted, the nationalists the Shin Bet (known as the Hilltop Boys) serve as red herrings for the investigation. When the Shin Bet discover the burned body, few among them believe that Jews did it, and instead look into whether it was an honor killing.

However as disinformation mounts, the main agent, the fictional Simon (Elkabetz), insists when others don’t (or won’t)  that those responsible for Abu Khdeir’s murder are, in fact, Jews. If you remember the developments of 2014 closely, you know that Simon’s hunch is correct, and Abu Khdeir’s murderers were Jewish settlers. The slow unfolding of the murder investigation feels like a concession made to viewers outside of Israel and it doesn’t entirely work. Viewers are likely to see to whom the evidence is pointing well before the Shin Bet does.

The show does not, on the whole, feel like a watered-down explainer for those hazy on the details of the murders. It is also not didactic in explaining the realities on the ground in East and West Jerusalem. But it is specific enough in its inquiry to probe such a relatively local issue as the secondary status of Mizrahi Jews in Israel.

“Our Boys,” despite being made by two separate studios and directors, isn’t harmed by this and its split focus. The stories feel at odds only in that they feature characters whose ideas of the world rely on different narratives of who is aggressor and who is victim. The  stories are tied together by documentary footage: of thousands of Israeli Jews flooding the streets after the hitchhikers were found, shouting “Death to Arabs;” of protesting Palestinians, their faces covered by keffiyehs, setting fires in East Jerusalem after Abu Khdeir’s disappearance; of clashes between those Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces armed with guns and smoke grenades.

That seemingly charged footage is, in fact, neutral, because it’s documentary. The creators avoid the risk of playing into any one narrative by dramatizing the events. The video serves only as evidence that this all happened.

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”— Maintaining Relevance

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”

Maintaining Relevance

Amos Lassen

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis brings us a new spy drama starring Ben Kingsley as  an aging Mossad agent who is struggling to maintain his relevance. He bonds with a younger operative sent to monitor him while he’s on a secret mission in Europe and this is a reflection on human relationships as well as “on the Europe of today – fragile, troubled, under constant threats from the outside and in turmoil on the inside.”

Adereth (Sir Ben Kinsgley), is a once-lauded but now aging field agent of the Israeli Mossad and his superiors feel that he has past his prime. There are those above him that are sure that he’s been fabricating intelligence to maintain his relevance and so they send Daniel (Itay Tiran) a young operative to insure that Adereth does not deviate from his mission to deliver the crucial information regarding a chemical weapons sale to a Middle Eastern dictatorship that he claims is waiting for him. This isformation leads to the mysterious Angela (Monica Bellucci), who might be a target, a lover or an enemy. (or all of these or none of these). Lines of trust become and Adereth realizes the hunter may become the hunted. 

Seduction is involved and there are many double-crosses  as we move toward the end of the film. As you are on the edge of your seat, it all come together.

“Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Inbal Arieli— Fostering Entrepreneurship

 

 

Arieli, Inbal. “Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, Harper Business, 2019.

Fostering Entrepreneurship

Amos Lassen

 

 Israel has the largest concentration of startups per capita worldwide in the world today, with more than one startup for every 2,000 people. A look at the long list of innovations that have come out of Israel includes everything from cherry tomatoes and drip irrigation to the USB flash drive and the Waze traffic app. While many claim that Israel’s outstanding economic achievements are because of its technologically advanced military, tech insider Inbal Arieli argues that it’s the way that Israelis raise their children (in absolute independence) that is responsible for building the resiliency and creativity that is needed for entrepreneurship. Arieli explains how Israeli childhood is shaped by challenges and risk in a tribal-like community, where they develop the courage to pursue unorthodox and often revolutionary approaches to change and innovation.

The root of this is what is known as Israeli chutzpah. This chutzpah includes a determinate approach to life, which might seem to some as rude and opinionated behavior, or more positively, to others, as preferring directness to political correctness for the sake of achieving one’s goals. (my own experience teaching in the Israeli school system showed this to me first hand and at first, it was quite jarring). I have since learned with the right amount of chutzpah, everything is possible.

Israeli children are used to expressing their opinions and we can compare this to an experienced business man framing a creative commercial transaction: he is “instilled with the chutzpah power – determined, courageous, and optimistic that anything can be achieved.” 

Arieli’s own experiences both as an Israeli entrepreneur and as a mother of three boys are the sources for her ideas here. 

Arieli shows how Israelis are driven toward experimentation, failure and learning, mental and physical risk-taking, and the positive belief that things will be all right. We embark on a journey through the typical Israeli childhood and see how it parallels with the lifecycle of a startup from discovery and exploration of the target market and value proposition, to the actual validation and scale.  Arieli says that there are five stages, Discovery, Validation, Efficiency, Scale and Sustainability, Renewal:

 

  • Stage 1:Discovery: in this stage, Israeli children don’t question and act intuitively. They live in a state where things don’t have a preordained order. In business, learn through own experiences rather than explicit teaching
  • Stage 2:Validation: Children are open up to criticism, test limits, resilience and experimentation and experience failure in this stage, discuss and learn from it, collect feedback and input from outside sources
  • Stage 3:Efficiency: Stage of Israeli teenage years when they use creativity muscles. Israelis live in a constant state of uncertainty and learn to cope with ambiguity. In business, they learn to use more from less while testing the boundaries, applying an agile mindset.
  • Stage 4:Scale and Sustainability: the phase when most Israelis join the military. Israeli children learn how to constantly improvise and keep challenging authority

In business, different elements come together to form a more robust organization, where information flows in all directions

  • Stage 5:Renewal: When Israeli youth are release from military service with an emphasizes that networks are key. In business, they take on new challenges, stepping out of routine and comfort zone.

 In sharing the unique ways in which Israelis parent, educate and acculturate their children, “Chutzpah” gives us invaluable insights and proven strategies for success as entrepreneurs, executives, innovators, parents and policymakers.

 

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”— The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”

The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

Amos Lassen

Director Romed Wyder takes us back in time to look at the origins of the creation of the State Of Israel. We lookat historical facts under the specific angle of the responsibility of the Western World. Via the analyses of internationally renowned scholars and cinematographic archives, we see that in adopting the Zionist project, Great Britain and other Western countries have been guided mainly by their own agenda. Therefore the West bears a heavy responsibility in terms of the fate of Jews in Europe at the time as well as in terms of the fate of the Palestinians today.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine, the current crisis is rooted choices made in response to 19th century geopolitics, colonial imperatives and the Holocaust. What makes this so complicated two sides entrenched and thousands of years of history and there seems to be no solution.

It’s so complicated. Thousands of years of history. Old hatreds. Both sides entrenched. No solution seems possible. There are common sentiments on both sides and the conflict goes way back in time. We are at a stalemate that is filled with rocket attacks, massacres, and uprisings. 

But the birth of the modern state of Israel was far from inevitable.  The 19th century was the era of the rise of the nation-state and this was a period filled with the invention of history. If every nation were to have its own state, what of the Jews? Early discussions of a Jewish state were not limited to placing it in Palestine. Argentina, Uganda and the United States were also considered as possible locales.

Not all Jews were Zionists, and not all early Zionists were Jews. Among Christian Zionists there was a split between those who welcomed a Jewish state as a precursor to the end of times and those who saw it as a way to decrease the Jewish population elsewhere. Even the partition of Palestine was not inevitable; many instead supported a single, federal state. In central and eastern Europe, working-class, Yiddish-speaking Jews were far less likely to support Zionism than those who were better off.

“And There was Israel” covers the history of Zionism from the writings of Theodore Herzl to the expulsion of Palestinians from hundreds of villages following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Political sociologist Riccardo Bocco maintains the seeds of later conflict were in part brought about by the contradictory commitments made by the British during the period of the Mandate: promising to recognize an independent Arab state in exchange for an alliance against the Ottomans while also committing to supporting a Jewish home in the Middle East, while at the same time secretly negotiating with France over carving up the region into spheres of influence. After the liberation of survivors in Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, calls for a Jewish homeland became ae moral urgency. But as we see here, even then, the outcome was far from certain. A proposal for a federal state including both Jews and Palestinians was never put to a vote at the United Nations, while behind-the-scenes machinations to ensure support for partition took place.

Our references to this fascinating history are seven academics from the fields of history, sociology, law, and political science and Middle Eastern studiess. Their narratives of the decades leading up to the formation of Israel include British, French, and American newsreels, along with rarely seen footage from within the early United Nations, as the question of partitioning Palestine into separate states comes to the floor.

This is an accessible, clearly argued essay on how Israel came to be and the far-reaching ramifications of colonial projects.