Israelism: a review


From the Israelism website: 

“When two young American Jews raised to unconditionally love Israel witness the brutal way Israel treats Palestinians, their lives take sharp left turns.

They join a movement of young American Jews battling the old guard to redefine Judaism’s relationship with Israel, revealing a deepening generational divide over modern Jewish identity…

ISRAELISM uniquely explores how Jewish attitudes towards Israel are changing dramatically, with massive consequences for the region and for Judaism itself.”

Israelism centers the stories of Simone Zimmerman, co-founder of IfNotNow, and “Eitan,” a former IDF soldier, as they “unlearn” everything they were taught about Israel. Because I am neither Simone nor Eitan, and because I have not been in their shoes, I can’t speak to their Jewish education and their personal stories. If they feel that they were brainwashed, that’s their experience.

However, the documentary distorted or lied about basic facts about the conflict and the American Jewish community, consistently downplayed antisemitism, exploited its “pro-Israel” subjects, and frankly reeked of American saviorism and American exceptionalism. 

For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Instagram and  Patreon

It’s not an objective or factual look at the conflict or into the American Jewish community. 



Simone’s “deconstruction” began as a UC Berkeley student, when she started attending pro-BDS student government hearings. She was shocked to hear the terms “occupation,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” etc in relation to Israel for the first time, and she felt that the answers that she received from her university Hillel were unsatisfactory…so she decided to do her own “research.”

I very much think that Simone makes a good point. It’s true, I think, that many Jewish communities have historically presented a pretty sugarcoated version of Israel. While I don’t think Jewish children need to become Middle East geopolitical experts as kids, there are serious gaps in the manner that we teach Jewish history and, by extension, the history of the conflict. No Jewish student should get to college without ever having heard the Palestinian version of the conflict.

The problem with Simone’s “deconstruction” is that she went from uncritically buying the pro-Israel narrative to uncritically buying the pro-Palestine narrative. Instead of merely showcasing human rights violations against Palestinians, for example, the documentary not only minimizes the human rights violations against Israelis (at one point, Simone dismisses rockets as a legitimate threat), but makes no mention whatsoever of Palestinian terrorism, other than to scoff at the concept.

Simone now has bought into the narrative of Palestinians as absolute victims, with no agency of their own or responsibility whatsoever (the racism of low expectations). 

It’s important to question what you’re taught. “Question” being the key word. Simone does not question what she was taught; instead, she dismisses it entirely in favor of another narrative…a narrative she does not question in any capacity. For example, as she derides the very idea of Palestinian terrorism, the film shows footage of a West Bank tour guide named Baha Hilo wearing a jersey that says “Intifada 48.” This is what I call the brainwashing to brainwashing pipeline. 



Israelism boils the history of antisemitism down to the Holocaust. There is absolutely no mention of any antisemitism before or after, nor is there any mention whatsoever of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, including the Palestinian Territories, in 1948. In fact, the film chastises the Jewish community for seeing ourselves as perpetual victims, rather than acknowledging that the Holocaust was just one genocide in the long chain of Jewish genocides in history. 

A running theme of the documentary is “hurt people [Jews] hurt people [Palestinians].” Israeli actions toward Palestinians are depicted entirely as a trauma response to the Holocaust, as though Palestinians are paying the price for what the Nazis did, rather than to things Palestinians themselves have done. In fact, at one point, another Palestinian interviewed, Sami Awad, openly said that he only “understood” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians after he visited Auschwitz; in his view, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is simply rooted in Auschwitz trauma. I found this incredibly infantilizing and offensive. The checkpoints in the West Bank exist because Palestinians carried out a relentless five-year-long suicide bombing campaign, not because Hitler sent us to the gas chambers. 

The latter part of the documentary argues that the Jewish community spends the entirety of its time silencing criticism of Israel by crying antisemitism when we could focus on the “real” threats to our community…white supremacist antisemitism. According to the documentary, there is no such thing as left-wing antisemitism. In reality, antisemitism exists across the political spectrum. It wasn’t white supremacists who carried out the largest antisemitic massacre since the end of the Holocaust, and it’s largely not white supremacists that have been responsible for the explosion of violent antisemitism (including murder, kidnapping, and rape) since October 7. 



Simone argues that the Jewish community is protecting Israel at the expense of protecting Jews. I found this an astonishingly ignorant statement. Protecting Israel is protecting Jews. This does not mean don’t call out Israel for wrongdoings. But protecting Israel’s safety means protecting half of the world’s Jewish population, which lives in Israel. If Israel is not safe, that means 7 million Jews are not safe.

To be an American Jew, like Simone and Eitan, is a tremendous privilege. The majority of Jews worldwide do not have such a privilege. When 850,000 Jews were expelled from the Arab world, only Israel took them in by the hundreds of thousands. When the Soviet Union suppressed every last aspect of Jewish life, it was Israel that Soviet Jews fled to. When Ethiopian Jews were slaughtered and starved, it was only Israel that evacuated them in secret operations. The list goes on and on. These Jews had nowhere to go. Without Israel, they’d be dead. 

No, Simone, they couldn’t have gone somewhere else. The world has a heinous track record when it comes to Jewish refugees. That your ancestors were not turned away at Ellis Island is a tremendous privilege, Simone, one that must of us were not fortunate enough to have. It was also the luck of the draw. You could’ve just as easily have been born an Israeli Jew. 

Israel’s safety and Jewish safety are one in the same. When Israelis are attacked in Israel, antisemitism worldwide skyrockets. This is a consistent pattern over the past 76 years. Israeli intelligence services have thwarted thousands of attacks against Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Israel’s safety makes you safe, Simone, believe it or not. 

Simone argues that the only way for Jews to truly be safe is for us to ensure that all other marginalized minorities are safe (collective liberation). But what happens when, in many cases, it’s members of other marginalized minorities that are hurting us? Does the gang rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Paris not count because her perpetrators happened to be brown Muslims?



The film conveys a clear message: it’s American Jews that will get the Israeli government to end the occupation (interestingly, the film is unclear as to whether this “occupation” refers to the West Bank, the West Bank and Gaza, or the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper. I think this is intentional). I’m trying to understand the circular logic here: they demand that the west stay out of the Middle East but then insist American Jews are the only ones capable of fixing the problem? 

Israel is a sovereign country. Israel works in the interest of its own citizens, not in the interest of Americans, Jewish or otherwise. It’s Israelis that live with daily rockets flying over their heads, not Americans (clearly, as Simone doesn’t seem to think rockets are a serious issue. Rockets are missiles. They kill people). It’s Israelis that have been bombed, stabbed, mutilated, burnt alive, decapitated, raped, and kidnapped in the name of Palestine. Any solution to the conflict must center Israelis and Palestinians, not Americans. 

The idea that it’s up to American Jews to save Palestinians and to save Israelis from themselves is infantilizing of both Palestinians and Israelis and deeply antisemitic. American Jews are not responsible for the policies of the government of a country where they don’t hold citizenship, just as Mexican Americans are not responsible for the policies of the Mexican government and Chinese Americans are not responsible for the policies of the Chinese government. 

For people who claim to be advocates for Palestinians, the Jews featured in the documentary can’t help but center themselves throughout. It’s blatant saviorism. 



Much of the film is simply factually inaccurate. Israelism paints a picture of a monolithic American Jewish community, in which all Jewish organizations, Hebrew schools, summer camps, synagogues, and more are working in the service of AIPAC or in the service of the Israeli government to brainwash young Jews into supporting Israel and even joining the IDF. Not only is this just untrue — there is no standardized Jewish education system in the United States, and views vary widely from group to group — but it carries heavy antisemitic undertones. No, Jews are not all in cahoots with each other to carry out a master plan. 

Some of the footage that is presented as “brainwashing” just isn’t. Teaching Jewish children about the importance of Israel in Judaism isn’t brainwashing. It’s Judaism 101. It’s no different than cultural programs for other ethnic minorities in the United States. Teaching children to love their ancestral homeland does not translate to uncritical support for the Israeli government.

The American Jewish community, and AIPAC specifically, are portrayed as deeply right-wing, borderline white supremacist. AIPAC is a bipartisan organization and the American Jewish community is overwhelmingly liberal. For example, the film shows Donald Trump speaking at an AIPAC conference, without bothering to mention that Democrats like Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama also spoke at AIPAC in the past. 

Some of the footage that was presented as Israeli bombings of Palestinians were actually Palestinian bombings of Israelis. For example, there’s a montage which includes the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing, where it’s implied Israel did it, when in reality the perpetrator was a Hamas terrorist. The film makes zero mention of the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank, per their own agreement, are subject to the law of the Palestinian Authority, whereas Israelis are under Israeli law. In another scene, the frame is zoomed in just enough so that the Palestinians waiting at a checkpoint look like they’re being kept inside a cage, when in reality, they’re leaning against a metal fence. The documentary is full of these distortions. 



The film was deeply exploitative of its “pro-Israel” subjects. It’s clear they were not told what the film was about. When they spoke of their love for Israel, it was portrayed as something sinister, even though no one said anything hateful or specifically supportive of the Israeli government. 

It’s obviously fine to interview opposing views, but if your documentary purports to be objective, then give them the chance to address your arguments. Israelism didn’t do this. 

According to Jacqui Schulefand, one of the pro-Israel voices featured in the film, she and some of her students at UConn Hillel were approached in 2019 about a documentary that was supposed to paint Israel in a positive light. They didn’t hear anything again from them until the documentary was released last year. 

Schulefand claims their words were edited in specific ways to demonize the pro-Israel subjects. For example, in one of the trailers, Schulefand saying “this is awesome” was superimposed over footage of Israeli soldiers raiding a home in the West Bank, even though her comments had absolutely nothing to do with the footage. Large parts of the interviews were not included, specifically parts where Schulefand lamented how sad it is that young Jewish 18-year-olds, whether born in Israel or not, have to be drafted into the IDF in the first place. 

While it’s not illegal to lie to interview subjects about the purpose of the documentary, it is dirty journalism. If the filmmakers didn’t have an agenda, and simply wanted to present an objective picture, they wouldn’t have had to lie. 

Israelism includes footage from Jewish day schools that features children whose parents did not consent to their inclusion in the documentary. 



As the documentary unfolded, I kept wondering, why does Israelism not simply show the plight of Palestinians? Why does it feel the need to offensively downplay historic and current antisemitism and the suffering of Israelis over the past 76 years? And then it hit me: it’s because if they were to admit that antisemitism is a legitimate issue, and if they were to admit that the suffering of Israelis in the conflict is also a legitimate issue, then they’d also have to admit that the conflict is not all as black and white as they frame it. They’d have to admit that maybe, just maybe, there is actually validity to the Israeli narrative. 

With all due respect to Sami Awad, who, again, is Palestinian and not Jewish, I was really, really offended by his comments regarding his takeaways from his visit to Auschwitz. Again, Israeli policies toward Palestinians, whether legitimate or not, are not rooted in Auschwitz trauma. They are a response to Palestinian terrorist attacks that date all the way back to the 1920s, before any Zionist paramilitaries (Haganah, Irgun, Lehi, etc) were formed. The checkpoints don’t exist because of Hitler; they exist because of the Palestinian intifadas. The West Bank wall does not exist because of Hitler; it exists because of the Palestinian intifadas. The blockade does not exist because of Hitler; it exists because Hamas started firing avalanches of rockets two hours after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Frankly, I felt infantilized by Awad’s comments, as though Jews are so traumatized by Auschwitz (which of course we are) that we don’t know how to behave toward others. I realized that it’s the same kind of infantilization (racism of low expectations) used on Palestinians: that they are so oppressed that they just couldn’t help but mutilate, kidnap, and rape Israelis. But I firmly believe everyone is accountable to their own behavior, even Holocaust survivors and their descendants, as well as Palestinians. 

I found the idea that we are “continuing the [Holocaust] cycle of violence” utterly infuriating. The cycle of violence? The Holocaust was a genocide perpetrated on civilians simply because they were Jews. There was no “cycle” there, and certainly not a cycle that has now been passed on to Palestinians. If anything, the Israeli-Palestinian cycle of violence can be dated to the Nebi Musa antisemitic pogrom in 1920, which is what prompted the Zionists to arm themselves. 

For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Instagram and  Patreon

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