Jews with Guns

By | Tagged: culture, History

It’s been a banner year for Jews with guns. From Gaza to the Golden Globes, it’s suddenly de rigeur to talk about Jews and militarism in the same breath, as if the equation is a natural one. Reminder to the world: It’s not. A few months ago, at dinner with a centrist American-Jewish friend, at the beginning of a discussion about Gaza, he said: “Without Israel, in 40 years, we’ll all be back in death camps.”

I smiled wryly, and rolled my eyes, thinking he was kidding. He was kidding, right? Right? He glared, deadly serious. “I mean it,” he said. “Without Israel, we’d all be in the sea.”jews_with_guns_hp.jpg

Two months later, accounts of civilian abuse in Gaza began emerging, throwing my friend’s concern into sharp relief. How, I wondered, would he respond to these accusations? Would he (and the American Jewish community at large) be able to see them as anything more than blood libel?

The screening of Quentin Tarantino’s
Inglourious Basterds
this week at Cannes, arriving on the heels of the simultaneous release of
Waltz With Bashir
in American theaters a few months ago may be able to offer the best answer. There’s something profoundly poignant about all three films and their underlying question: what happens when the world’s perpetual scapegoats are offered a chance to be on the other side of power, the other side of history? And can American Jews conceive of themselves as something more than victims?

These are valid and timely questions, and notable ones given that Waltz with Bashir was uneasily greeted by many American Jews. Why? Because they were uncomfortable seeing their Israeli brethren portrayed in such morally ambiguous light. This was in stark contrast to Israel, where, when Waltz with Bashir was screened over the summer–a good six months before recent events in Gaza–the film was wildly acclaimed.

Israelis, it seemed, were fully open to a film that portrayed an unromanticized version of war, and willing–if not relieved–to see themselves as both victims and aggressors. As my friend Udi, an IDF veteran said, “I think Israelis walk around with blinders on, that we can only live here by the sword and that justifies everything. And Waltz with Bashir showed the crack in those blinders–that there’s a price to be paid for us using force, and we’re compromising ourselves and our integrity and world.” He shook his head, and averted his eyes. That same day, Israeli troops were moving deeper into Gaza.

Posted on May 18, 2009

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