Sunday, November 15, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: Kings of Capitol Hill

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

Kings of Capitol Hill
Directed by Mor Loushy
Ticket Information

It’s hard to find any political subject that people in America can agree on right now. Attitudes and perspectives are framed by a number of factors, and ever-increasing partisan sentiments put people further at odds with each other and often unwilling to find any sort of compromise. Many believe that there are issues that should be patently non-partisan and applicable to everyone, but it’s hard to get those from different places and backgrounds to feel the same way. Trying to establish common ground so that certain topics are not up for debate can be difficult, and can lead to shifts in one direction when those espousing one sentiment are just as passionate about another.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, was founded in 1963 with the mission to be a bipartisan organization offering support for Israel. It sought to advocate for aid to the young nation in the Middle East surrounded by many hostile powers and to ensure that politicians in the United States could hear from the American Jewish community about their connection to a country whose survival they felt was vital. A number of former leaders and administrators share deep concerns, however, about the direction that AIPAC has gone since its inception, leaning very far to the right and representing policies that feel anything but nonpartisan.

The topic of this film is more interesting to me than most as a past attendee of the AIPAC Policy Conference, including when Donald Trump spoke as a presidential candidate and when Mike Pence came to address the group on Trump’s behalf during his first year in office. The people interviewed in this film unpack trends they see which were certainly becoming apparent to me as well that steadfast support for Israel from AIPAC often aligned too strongly with right-wing sentiments within both the American and Israeli governments, represented most by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been Prime Minister since 2009.

This documentary does a responsible job of avoiding unnecessary express criticism of Israel as a country, honing in instead on the way that Netanyahu has governed and dealt aggressively with elements he does not like, in the same way that liberal Americans can support the United States while decrying the actions of its current president. As the sole piece of education about Israel, this film might not offer a fully accurate picture of the scope of alternatives to AIPAC – ranging from a pro-peace, pro-Israel organizations like J Street to more vocal groups with more critical approaches like IfNotNow. It does present a compelling and very thought-provoking exploration of a worrisome shift that likely can’t be undone without a serious examination of AIPAC’s founding core values.


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