Jewish Journal


January 23, 2009

‘Defiance’ director talks about Jewish power, Hamas and Nazis



It’s not something I bring up in polite company, but I often discuss Jewish power—“two words which, by themselves, can be harmless but which together form a verbal missile of hate”—right here on this blog. Why? Well, it’s an important topic, and it’s too easy to stay away from it for hear of upsetting any delicate sensibilities.

The important thing, I think, is discussing Jewish power in the lovingly critical and intense way that J.J. Goldberg did it with his seminal mid-‘90s book on the subject—and knowing the difference between that and this or, worse yet, this.

In light of Ed Zwick’s new film, “Defiance,” which I am still itching to see, Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with the director about Daniel Craig smashing the stereotype of the weak Jew and recent comments comparing Israelis to Nazis. Here is a snippet of Goldberg’s interview:

Jeffrey Goldberg: You’re opening in Europe. We’ve heard a lot of talk in Europe comparing what Israel does in the Occupied Territories to what the Nazis did to the Jews. Are you worried about the way the movie will be understood in Europe right now?

Edward Zwick: You know, the argument comparing what the Jews are doing and what the Nazis did is just such a preposterous exaggeration, because one when one uses the word genocide, you have to ask: If Israel were interested in genocide than they have more than the means necessary to accomplish such a thing, and given that, in context, they’re using a certain amount of restraint. Yes, I know the word “restraint” is hard to talk about, given what’s happening in Gaza, but it is a type of restraint. What I’m responding to is equivalence. Words are important. Genocide is a word thrown around too easily. This is happening now in Poland and Lithuania. There’s an attempt to make an equivalence between alleged war crimes of the Bielskis and the Holocaust.

JG: Do you see any equivalence between Israel and Hamas?

EZ: What I see is that there is a double standard, that on one side you have an organization dedicated to creating the maximum amount of destruction and horror, and doing it in a way that is deliberately bloody-minded and terrorizing. On the other hand you have an extremely powerful state with all the means at its disposal to create a horrifying result, and yet trying, despite the resulting horrible casualties, nonetheless seeming to use extraordinary restraint. It’s really an interesting contradiction.

JG: Let’s talk about Jewish self-defense. In Schindler’s List, the Jews are the sheep and Schindler is the shepherd. Here, they’re fighters.

EZ: I think this has been a long odyssey. In the context of this, I’ve read a lot about Orde Wingate, or the Jewish battalions in World War I, but I think it might have been Leon Wieseltier who led me back to read the Book of Judges or the Book of Joshua to see just how much of a warrior culture this always was. The notion of self-defense is implicit in the David and Goliath story, in the Maccabee story, in the Bar Kochba story. It was all there. I would say that Schindler’s List, as powerful as it was, seemed to have continued with a particular iconography of victimization and passivity. That was the iconography with which I had grown up and to which I had grown accustomed.

You can read the rest here.

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