Recently I attended the Los Angeles premiere of a new documentary called Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation. British journalist and political commentator Melanie Phillips, perhaps best-known to FrontPage readers for her book Londonistan, was on hand to deliver her remarks; she praised the documentary as an important step in educating audiences about Israel and the Jewish connection to it, and an important step in pushing back against the relentless disinformation and lies that are like a contemporary plague on the land of the Jews.
Body and Soul was produced and directed by Gloria Z. Greenfield, who was present at the premiere to introduce the film. Ms. Greenfield, whose previous work includes The Case for Israel – Democracy’s Outpost in 2008 and Unmasked Judeophobia in 2011, is the president of Doc Emet Productions, the motto of which is, fittingly, “Truth in film.”
At just over an hour in length, Body and Soul attempts an ambitious scope, sweeping over thousands of years of Jewish history in the land of Israel and across the Middle East, Europe, and Russia. It capably covers Biblical history, the origins of Zionism, the Holocaust, the Six-Day War, the creation of the modern state of Israel... pretty much every major historical era and high (or low) point of the Jewish people.
I was glad to see that the film did not overlook the important contribution of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Jewish thinker and warrior who emphasized that it was not enough to win the intellectual argument for Jews and Israel; it was also necessary that Jews learn to shoot, to defend themselves, and to be prepared to fight for their place in the world. His message is one that each new generation of Jews must take to heart – and that’s certainly true today in a climate of resurgent anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred.
The film features such notable, articulate commentators as Bret Stephens, Victor Davis Hanson, and Alan Dershowitz, as well as nearly three dozen other academics and experts in political science, archaeology, international law, and media (among them Prof. Robert Wistrich of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a leading scholar of the history of anti-Semitism, who passed away mere weeks after the film’s premiere). Together they assert the undeniable case for an historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, from at least 3000 years ago to our own time. “Jewish identity is born in a journey to the land of Israel,” begins Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “and ever since, to be a Jew has been to be on a journey to the Promised Land.”
Body and Soul also addresses the current media distortions, propaganda, and lies about Israel and the Jews, that have come to dominate public opinion about Israel thanks to the assiduous work of Israel’s enemies and a complicit news media. The commentators discuss, to name two examples, Yasser Arafat’s efforts to delegitimize Jewish links to the land of Israel, and Palestinian attempts to fabricate a history for themselves in that land which denies any Jewish connection, such as claiming Jesus for themselves as a Palestinian Muslim.
“The violent means [of extinguishing Israel] have failed – wars, military invasions, terrorism,” says former Knesset member Einat Wilf. “What we are witnessing is an intellectual assault on Zionism, which is not new but in many ways, I think, is unprecedented in how fierce it is.” Harvard’s Ruth Wisse concurs: The Jews of Israel “have done well on the military front, but how well have they done on the ideological front? How well have they done on the propaganda, on the diplomacy front? Very badly, because they’re fighting with their hands tied behind their backs.”
Historian Victor Davis Hanson speaks on the complicity of academics in assisting the fabrication of a Palestinian people and the delegitimization of Jewish history. Political pundit Bret Stephens discusses how the delegitimization efforts are at least as dangerous as the Iranian bid for nuclear weapons because those efforts have created the conditions in which Iran’s acquisition of those weapons is seen as “somehow acceptable.”
What must be done? “You have to change the popular culture,” Hanson noted. “You have to object, and object vehemently, when you see people distorting history.” Similarly, Ruth Wisse closes the film by asserting that Israel must do what it did in 1948: every hour of every day, “demand the right to be respected.”
“We can’t sacrifice who we are on the altar of political correctness,” declares Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler:
And if we speak directly, and if we speak in terms of who we are and where we’ve come from, what we aspire to be, then I think we will make a contribution not only that understanding internationally of who we are, but in affirming who we are, begin to give expression to it.
Because it never draws attention to itself, I must note that Body and Soul’s soundtrack is outstanding. Composed by the excellent Sharon Farber, an Israeli born film, television and concert music composer who has been twice nominated for an Emmy, the score is moody and subtle but powerful, and never overwhelms the film or its speakers.
The downsides: as much ground as the documentary covers, there is so much more to be said – an impossible amount, in fact – that Body and Soul’s length is inevitably inadequate, although it serves as an enlightening overview of digestible size. And as educational and professionally produced as the documentary is, the disappointing reality is that the people who most need to see this film and take its message to heart are the ones most resistant to facts and to truth, particularly where Israel is concerned.
But if enough supporters of Israel find opportunities to share Body and Soul with less informed friends and acquaintances; if, against all odds, it finds its way into high schools and colleges; if the supporters of the Jewish people take direct action to spread the truth and counter the lies, then perhaps enough eyes will be opened to begin to make a difference.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/2/15)