Saturday, December 5, 2020

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Prophet

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 14th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually December 3rd-10th, 2020.

The Prophet
Directed by Ilan Rubin Fields
Ticket Information

There are those who believe that, had Jews been armed during the Holocaust, they would have been able to defend themselves against Nazis intent on exterminating them. While those theories have been mostly debunked, others have taken what occurred to their people as inspiration to change the future. The expression “Never again” has been applied to advocate against the genocides of other groups, and some have used the horrific treatment of Jews during that time period as a forceful call to take up arms and actively fight to ensure that no such event could ever be possible again.

Rabbi Meir Kahane was a controversial figure in America during his early years, founding the Jewish Defense League, which took an aggressive stand on combating anti-Semitism. After multiple arrests in New York, Kahane immigrated to Israel. He formed the political party Kach, which he went on to represent for one term in the Israeli Knesset after his election in 1984. His militant attitude towards the presence of Arabs in Israel and the staunch insistence on the inherent Jewishness made him many enemies and earned Kach the distinction of being banned from contending in elections.

Kach was assassinated in 1991 at the age of fifty-eight after giving a speech in New York, but this film asserts a strong and formidable legacy that has gone on to inspire a generation of right-wing activism in Israel that has on multiple occasions led to horrific acts of violence, including the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994 and the murder of a Palestinian teenager following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in 2014. Kach was a firm believer in the right to free speech, something he used regularly to demean the rights of those he thought to be lesser than Jews, twisting that liberty to his own ideals.

There are clear comparisons to be made to today’s white nationalist movements in America and other places around the world, and to the rhetoric of hatred and violence that is freely broadcast by influential politicians. Many interviewees in this film unapologetically affirm their still-existent reverence for Kahane, praising him as a motivational speaker and man of principle. In addition to providing a comprehensive and fascinating biography of someone who knew what the power of his words could be, this film offers an important lesson on how easily people can be motivated to dangerous ideas and how normalizing them in any way can make them even more malicious.


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