Film director Jonathan Gazer’s acceptance speech went viral. But Jewish community leaders know there will be no professional damage for misrepresenting his words

Film director Jonathan Glazer poked a hornet’s nest with his acceptance speech this week as he won an Oscar for The Zone of Interest, a film about the family of Auschwitz’s Nazi commandant who live peacefully inside a walled garden, cut off from the horrors just on the other side.

Glazer says the film’s point is not simply to drive home a history lesson. It’s “not to say, ‘Look what they did then.’ Rather, ‘Look what we do now.’”

There could not be pithier summary of the difference between the universal moral impulse found in Jews like Glazer, and the particularist Zionist impulse found in the people who noisily claim to speak for the Jewish community – and are readily given a bullhorn to do so by western establishments.

The first group says, “Never again.” The second group cries, “Never again, unless it serves Israel’s interests.”

And given Israel’s decades-long craving to dispossess the Palestinians of their entire homeland, that second “Never again” is as good as worthless. Palestinians were always in danger of erasure – not just territorially, as happened in 1948 and 1967, but existentially, as is happening now – by a state misleadingly declaring itself to be Jewish.

Universal ethics sidelined

The assumption of many was that the West would never tolerate another genocide being conducted in its name.

How misplaced that certainty was. The West is arming and funding the genocide in Gaza, and providing diplomatic cover at the United Nations. Its commitment to helping Israel carry out mass slaughter is such that many western states have frozen their funding to the UN aid agency UNRWA, which is specifically charged with keeping Palestinians in Gaza fed and alive.

Observers underestimated how far things had shifted. Over many decades, a universal ethics that drew on the lessons of the Holocaust – and solidified into international law – was intentionally undermined, sidelined, and replaced by a particularist Zionist “ethics.”.

That readjustment happened with the active connivance of western powers, which had no interest in promoting the universal lessons of recent history. For their own self-interested reasons, they preferred the particularist agenda of Zionism. It sat easily with the West’s insistence that its privileges continue: the right to wage wars and steal the resources of others, the ability to trample on indigenous peoples, and the power to destroy the planet and other species.

Ideology for dark times

In fact, Zionism was never primarily about Israel. It is a much broader ideology, rooted in western tradition and tailor-made for the darker times we are entering, in which systems collapse – of economies, of climate stability, of authority – poses new challenges to western establishments.

Zionism started as a Christian doctrine centuries ago, and flourished in the Victorian era among British politicians. It views Jews chiefly as a vehicle to advance a brutal, end-of-times redemption in which they are to be the the main sacrificial victims.

Though less conspicuously today, Christian Zionism still shapes the climate in which today’s politicians operate – as the large number of “Friends of Israel” in both major parties attests. Christian Zionism is the self-professed view too of many tens of millions of rightwing evangelicals in the US and elsewhere.

Whether in its Christian or Jewish incarnations, Zionism was always a “might is right”, “law of the jungle” doctrine, drawing on Old Testament-style ideas of chosen-ness, divine purpose, and rationalisations for violence and savagery. It sits all too comfortably with the extermination of Palestinians in Gaza.

No disgrace or shame

Jewish leaders and influencers in the West who champion more, not less, genocide in Gaza face neither disgrace nor shame. They are not shunned for cheering policies that have entailed so far the slaughter, maiming and orphaning of at least 100,000 Palestinian children. Why? Because they are articulating an Israel-focused version of an ideology that fits neatly with the worldview of western establishments.

For this reason, Jewish influencers lost no time working to smear Glazer as a self-hating Jew by misrepresenting his speech – quite literally by editing out the parts that did not fit their particularist, anti-universal agenda.

Referencing the victims both of October 7 and of Israel’s attack on Gaza, Glazer told the Oscars audience: “Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation that has led to conflict for so many innocent people.”

He was expressly opposing his Jewishness being weaponised in support of a genocide. He was standing apart from many Jewish community leaders and influencers who have weaponised their own Jewishness to justify violence against civilians. He was reminding us that the Holocaust’s lesson is that ideologies must never trump our humanity, must never be used to rationalise evil.

All of which poses a huge threat to those in the Jewish community who have, for years, been precisely weaponising their Jewishness for political ends – in the service of Israel and its decades-old project to remove the Palestinian people from their historic homeland.

The real moral rot

In a moment of pure projection, for example, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, dubbed by media outlets as “the most famous rabbi in America,”  castigated Glazer for supposedly “exploiting the Holocaust” and for trivializing “the memory of the 6 million victims through whom he found Hollywood glory.”.

Boteach apparently cannot understand that it is he, not Glazer, who has been exploiting the Holocaust – in his case, for decades in the service of protecting Israel from any criticism, even now as it commits a genocide.

Meanwhile, Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor at Newsweek, broke with all journalistic norms to completely misrepresent Glazer’s speech, accusing him of “moral rot” for supposedly disavowing his Jewishness. Rather, as he made all too clear, he was rejecting how his Jewishness and the Holocaust were being hijacked by genocide apologists such as Ungar-Sargon to promote a violent ideological agenda.

The Newsweek editor knows that Glazer’s speech was the most listened to and discussed moment of the Oscars. There are few who read her tweeted comment who had not heard for themselves what Glazer said in his speech, rather than the misinformation Ungar-Sargon peddled about it.

Lying about his remarks should have been an act of professional self-harm. It should have been a dark stain on her journalistic credibility. And yet Ungar-Sargon proudly left up her tweet, even as it received X’s humiliating “Readers added…” footnote exposing her deception.

She did so because that tweet is her calling card. It declares her not a talented or careful journalist but as something far more useful: one who will do whatever is required to get ahead. Like Shmuley, she was projecting – in her case, with the accusation of “moral rot”. She was advertising that she lacks a moral compass, and that she is willing to do whatever is needed to advance establishment interests.

Like those who lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there will be no price to pay for these all-too-visible failings, or for promoting a catastrophe for a people whose lives and fate are of no import to the West.

Shmuley and Ungar-Sargon are determined to buttress the walled garden, shielding us from the suffering, and terrors, inflicted by the West just out of view.

These courtiers and charlatans must be shamed and shunned. We must listen instead to those like Glazer trying to tear down the wall to show us the reality outside.

Jonathan Cook

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