Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: You don't mess with the Zohan

What with the discussion raging on Israel I thought I'd go see "You don't mess with the Zohan" Adam Sandler's comic tale of an Israeli Special Forces Commando who wants to turn over a new leaf to become a hairdresser in New York (I actually checked this out of the net first to see if I was "allowed" to go see this, I can).

There are so many levels on which this comedy should not work. Its reliance on ethnic stereotypes for the gags, a subject matter that is well above sensitive, Adam Sandler's penchant for penis jokes, an extended cameo by Maria Carey which serves as little more than tedious product placement, the list is probably unending. However, despite all my expectations I actually thought it was quite funny, even good in places.

And by that I mean it made me laugh, not that I agree with its "political analysis" (if any).

The first thing to make clear though is that this is not a satire on Israeli-Palestine affairs but a slapstick series of very silly jokes that happens to be set in the region, where lead characters are supposedly protagonists in the conflict. People should not expect this film to a) make sense b) provide an historical treatise on the conflict c) avoid offensive stereotypes. BUT. You shouldn't expect it to be one sided Israeli propaganda either - although some people seem to think that is exactly what it is.

For instance "the portrayal of Palestinians as ugly, dirty, incompetent, stupid, goat loving terrorists was jammed down the viewer’s throat more times than Zohan’s lame hummus jokes."

The running hummus joke was a bit lame (although it appealed to me for entirely different reasons, ie my "issues" with hummus) and who doesn't love goats but the Palestinians weren't portrayed as ugly or dirty and only the terrorists were portrayed as terrorists. Seeing as the lead character Zohan was a "counter terrorist" you have to expect a few of his opposite number to pop up. These terrorists certainly were portrayed as incompetent and stupid - although dim witted comedy villains are hardly a new phenomenon and pretty much everyone was portrayed as stupid to one level or another. That's the kind of humour we're dealing with here.

The all white boardroom suits were portrayed as idiots, the Israelis were portrayed as backward fools, Chris Rock even played a Jamaican twit (in a one minute cameo). In other words everyone got the treatment. I'm not saying the lead (Israeli) character was not shown as sympathetic and good hearted - but as he was the one deserting the army to become a hair dresser and ends up falling in love with a Palestinian I think he's allowed to be. After all that's the kind of behaviour we on the left advocate for members of the Israeli armed forces.

The film's unquestionably insensitive and obviously there are going to be many people who cannot laugh at the subject matter - just as many find Sandler himself difficult to laugh at, no matter what film he's in. What I will say for it is that on more than one occasion Palestinian fighters are given the chance to air a genuinely political point of view that was not just about hate. Of course, there is one point where a terrorist berates a crowd who are all getting along by saying "where's the hate people?" but that was funny - and therefore acceptable.

I saw this film in a cinema jam packed with foreigners, many of whom were from the region (at least I assume they were as they laughed, very hard, at the non-English asides that were completely incomprehensible to me). I can't be certain as I didn't go up to people to check but I'm reasonably sure that there were Arabs and Israelis in the cinema all laughing their puerile heads off. In other words even the ethnic jibes were done with some affection, which is a difficult trick to pull off but it worked for this audience.

Critics of film, at least those who view it as simple propaganda, seem to ignore the core to the film and its ending (spoiler warning - not that you're going to go and see it) and are close to giving the impression that the only film on the subject they would have approved was propaganda for their point of view. The core of the film was a desire for peace and understanding and the ending involved Arabs and Israelis uniting against the "real enemy" the corporations. I shit you not. They even found some sort of workers' co-op as part of the happy ending where goat loving Palestinians and shonky electronics dealing Israelis work side by side.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not recommending you see this unless you have a thick skin and a juvenile sense of humour - and you definitely should not go and see it if you don't want to see people play hackey sack with a live cat (it's a funny scene but I know some of you love animals and that).


ModernityBlog said...

have you broke your boycott already?

still using the web? you really must boycott those Israeli design IP routers, and as you don't know which packets have passed thru them, best boycott the lot!

Jim Jay said...

No - I haven't.

Green Gordon said...

See, here was me thinking boycotts had to do with where you spend your money, not what technology you use that has been bought by other people...

ModernityBlog said...

Hmm, let's think Pentium M, stop using them, developed in Israel and subsequent related Intel processors

and the web, Cisco routers, developed in Israel

come on, do it properly!

at least inconvenience yourself if you are going to Boycott

btw, why ain't you boycotting Britain? for their list of colonial crimes? the US for everything else, TURN off the TV.

then next Saudi for human rights abuses and oil funding violence

China, for Tibet, lack of worker's rights, etc

Boycott, but at least show some universal principles?

or are Britain, the US, Saudi, China "special" cases? too difficult to Boycott?

Anonymous said...

Thats Pretty Unfair "Moderity Blog"
by that logic we should all give up and not bother doing anything!
If there was a discussion on boycotting Saudi Arabia, I'd be happy to support that.


ModernityBlog said...


personally I think Boycotts are posture politics, I don't have much time for them

but IF you are going to do it, then at least be consistent, define WHY you are doing it, on what basis, what it will achieve and how you will do it

and that means a little more than not eating Israeli produced food, it means inconveniencing your self, and in this instance appreciating the breath of the Israeli's positive contributions to the world, not just constructing negative caricatures of them

Still it up to the boycotters to see if they live up to their own high ideals!

So switch off the Internet, don't use Intel-based PCs, avoid medical research and pharmaceutical advances, don't use Israeli news agencies for comprehensive coverage of the Middle East, make sure your mobile phone doesn't use chips developed in Israel.

oh and avoid the avocados!

But whatever you do, be consistent.

Aaron said...

We don't vote for the war-mongering parties, we encourage people to vote alternatively. We take part in campaigns against imperialism and oppression. We demonstrate, protest and give money to organisations dedicated to fighting the evils of the world and we avoid as much as possible products which originate from places which engage in the routine abuse of human rights.
I'm not watching the Olympics, and I spread awareness of Tibet, Sudan and human rights abuses by the Chinese state.
I also won't be watching the British Olympics and I will be encouraging other people to do so.

I don't see the evidence that a boycott of Israel would be counter-productive. Both sides need to work with eachother, but at the moment Israel holds the balance of power it is within Israel's power to do something.

Raphael said...


You write:
"I don't see the evidence that a boycott of Israel would be counter-productive."

Well, then look again. In the UK, there is no doubt that the boycott campaign is contributing to the normalization of antisemitic discourse.

As far as the situation in Israel / Palestine is concerned, what you need to demonstrate is that the boycott is or may be productive. The evidence is that it is actually counter productive and is directly responsible for the cancellation of events that bring together Israelis and Palestinian citizens who support each other's right to self-determination. The evidence is also that, if anything, it weakens the progressive left and advantages the right.

If you want a real leftwing perspective, you don't choose one nationalism against another. You support those on both sides who are campaigning for peace.

Raphael said...

Surely Modernity blog is a bit provocative... but he highlights a real difficulty.

It is quite easy to boycott Avocados, not pentiums which are part of large multicomponent technological objects.

If you want to have an impact through economic pressure, you need to target goods which are important for the economy of the country.

Agricultural export has gone below 2% declining fast. By contrast, HighTech, including processors and so on, has gone up, and now amounts to more than two thirds of Israeli export. So, Modernity's question is not that silly after all.

Of course, if it is a mere gesture, then it does not matter.

Green Gordon said...

The repeated assertion that boycotting is about inconveniencing yourself is just not true, though.

It is either about economic pressure (the extent of which could vary along a spectrum) or about not wanting to personally contribute to some company or state. (And trying to reduce your own guilt is not the same as a 'feel good factor'). I don't hit puppies with hammers, not because it makes me feel better about myself, or is gesture politics, but because I would feel wrong to do so. (this is a crude analogy not intended to be comparable to the subject of this post)

Arguments around boycotting and hypocrisy are complex, but I don't agree it has to be all or nothing or that there's no point in boycotting at all if there goods whose ability to boycotts is beyond our control or the boycott of which would seriously undermine our own positions to continue to pursue other solutions.

Anyway, to put my cards on the table, I think I agree roughly with Raphael but still reserve my right to weigh up many different factors when choosing where to buy things from (oh the joys of capitalism) Still the tone of these discussions has been somewhat antagonistic,

Jim Jay said...

I think if a boycott does not change your behaviour then its unlikely to be having much of an impact. But the point of the boycott is not how much it inconveniences you (I've no time for people birching themselves to show how pure they are) but how much pressure it exerts.

As this boycott is about goods it means that when I buy something I need to make sure I'm not contributing to the Israeli economy, at least as far as I'm able to ascertain.

I'm not putting on any pressure by throwing away my computer or not using the internet - but come the day I buy a new one I'll be trying to ensure that I minimise or hopefully eradicate those components made in Israel.

I couldn't give a stuff whether something was developed by Israelis - I'm not boycotting ideas, or for that matter Israelis themselves. It's irrelevant to the debate.

This demand for an all or nothing approach leaves me cold and is entirely unpersuasive - you'll have to try another tack.

Raphael said...

Green Gordon, maybe I shouldn't hammer my points given that I seem to have more or less your support, but here it is...

One thing is an ethical consumerist lifestyle, i.e. a consumer who takes into account the carbon footprint of the goods it buys, supports fairtrade, try not support dictatorships and human rights abusers, etc. Such a consumer weighs various principles and makes choices, which, in effect, are often compromises.

A completely different thing is to support an organized political campaign for the boycott of a country.

A third thing is to support a campaign that includes a "cultural" boycott.

A fourth thing is for a political party, to press for the "cultural" boycott of one, and no other, country in the world.

As for the tone of the discussion... how to say... Based on experience, I would say that it is the most civilized discussion between Green Party members (and a few outside contributors) that ever took place. Contact me offline for dreadful examples from internal e-lists, or just go to the archives of the international list...

Aaron said...

I am aware that people who just hate Jews are probably loving a boycott, but there are so many people who will have nothing to do with those sorts. People are there for different reasons and motivations. An example I can think of is just because the BNP want to protect the countryside, same as me, that doesn't make me a fascist.

The challenge is to be explicit that we are in no way racist or saying it's perfectly fine to ram in to people with a bulldozer. I went on an anti-war protest in February and saw placards with "We are all Hezbollah" and I definitely wasn't going to wave one of those around - I support democracy not theocracy..

It feels as if people are trying to stop anyone from doing anything that is anti-Israeli policy. Like they want us to stop complaining and accept what is going on. If we can create awareness through a large boycott and influence the agenda, then I feel that is ok. Of course the boycott ends when Israel start going down the right path - but until then...

P.S. I have a couple of friends who are in the IDF, and I am extremely worried about the things they come out with. Both of them are young and very intelligent, it hurts so much to know what they're taking part in.

Raphael said...

Aaron says: "If we can create awareness through a large boycott and influence the agenda, then I feel that is ok."

Which agenda? The Israeli political agenda? What is your evidence that the boycott may influence it, and if it does, that it would be in the right direction?

(see discussion with Jim on the BIG post on the likelihood that the boycott could just as well have the opposite effect)

Aron writes: "It feels as if people are trying to stop anyone from doing anything that is anti-Israeli policy."

Who are these people Aron? Names and quotations please... I am opposing the boycott; I am also opposing a number of Israeli policy and supporting other forms of solidarity, so it cannot be me you are referring to, or?

Raphael said...

"An example I can think of is just because the BNP want to protect the countryside, same as me, that doesn't make me a fascist."

But you don't go on demos with the BNP, do you?

Whereas you do (even if you condemn, and I am glad you do) with those charming chaps chanting "we all Hezbollah..."

You don't campaign with the BNP, sign their petitions (even on the environment if they would do any), or share platforms at demonstration with BNP leaders?

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

I didn't specifically mean you, but it's the vibe that I get from a few people who I've talked to about this.

If they see that their economy is going to be hit, then would that not trigger a response? I can't imagine they'd continue down the route they're going - it just wouldn't make sense.

I don't intend to go on demonstrations with the BNP, I doubt many of them would enjoy listening to Tony Benn or George Galloway's world view anyway haha.

I am not comfortable calling myself a member of Hezbollah as I don't believe that violence brings meaningful solutions. I want to be in solidarity with those in Palestine and Israel who want peace, but how we do go about that?
The UN resolutions haven't done anything and Israel goes onwards, and so does the conflict.

My question to you, how else would we effectively pressure Israeli government then?

Jim Jay said...

I've been on at least two demos with the BNP, although I had no idea they were there as a block. The massive pre-war demo which they claim to have attended and a very large demo against car plant closures - where union stewards corralled them into an underpass and handed them over to the police with the advise not to let them out unless they wanted trouble they couldn't handle.

I've also been on at least one demo where jihadi types were out in force. Some on the left boycotted this particular (anti-war) demo because they were to be there but in practice they were simply giving protesters up to these reactionary fuckers.

Because there was an organised left presence at that demo we had a real battle of slogans, placards and discussions - fighting for the soul of the demo which was incredibly instructive to me as an activist. It really did make a difference and it was the last time that kind of presence from that kind of islamicist was seen at one of these events - because we engaged with it and won.

I could go into more anecdotal detail but don't want to witter on. Surfice it to say that the presence of someone I profoundly disagree with does not mean I'll refuse to be part of that organisation or movement.

Raphael said...


Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a free press, a judiciary, NGOs, etc. I am afraid, not being a citizen of Israel, there is not much that you and I can do to directly put pressure on the Israeli government (nor on the Chinese gvt). I am sorry to disappoint you there.

We can avoid however make it more difficult for those in Israel and Palestine who support peace. For good reasons, as well as for historical reasons, the boycott movement is perceived in Israel as one which aims at the destruction of the Jewish state, i.e. one to be opposed at all costs.

We can support organizations such as OneVoice which have a clear political agenda: a state for the Palestinian, peace between an independant Palestine and Israel. There are other organizations as well which do original peace building work. In the context of academia, here is the contrast between boycott and solidarity:

You are essentializing the conflict: "The UN resolutions haven't done anything and Israel goes onwards, and so does the conflict."

This is an oversimplification (necessarily, I appreciate that). There is a lot going on at the moment. The negociations may seem to be in a trap, but they exist. The truce is holding and developing (wood has been delivered for the first time for months in Gaza today). Syria and Israel seem to be ready to sign a peace deal as soon as there is a new president in the US. There is also a new prisoner swap which seems to be on its way.

These signs of hope may well be shattered at any time by a new provocation on one side or the other. We all know that. The point is that the signs of hope cited above are not the consequence of boycott. They are the consequence of active engagement of the diplomacy of Turkey, Egypt and Germany, i.e. countries which have been able to impose themselves to both party as valuable intermediates (also the consequence of larger geostrategical changes which make peace, both for these intermediate countries and for Israel a more pressing and urgent need). BTW, as a political party, isn'it that that we should be discussing: what sort of diplomacy we would engage in if we were in power?

Finally, on the long term, and beyond Israel/Palestine, the history of peace in the ME is also the history of Israel neighbours dropping their boycott, developing trade and "normal" political relations, first Egypt, then Jordan, etc...

Raphael said...

"Surfice it to say that the presence of someone I profoundly disagree with does not mean I'll refuse to be part of that organisation or movement."

Point taken Jim

PSC has a fringe at the next GP conference. Scottish PSC is part of PSC. Here are some ressources to help you prepare the "battle of slogans, placards and discussions" and "fighting for the soul of the [conference]"

Good luck!

ModernityBlog said...

Yes, my comments concerning inconvenience were meant to be provocative, to make people think about the implications.

Because if you only boycott what is convenient to you (avocados, bagels, fruits) then it really isn't a boycott,

instead it becomes "I boycott bits of Israeli products, but not the important stuff, or that which inconveniences me too much"

Which lacks a certain snappiness as a slogan?

If you were in hospital with a heart condition, would you refuse the avocados because they came from Israel, but not the heart treatment developed in Israeli Universities?

Would you refuse Israeli fruit, but gladly be treated by an IDF trained doctor?

How far does the commitment to boycotting Israeli products outweigh the hassle factor? and vice versa?

Jim Jay said...

"PSC has a fringe at the next GP conference." Does it? I thought there wasn't going to be any fringe discussion around this topic (although there are two motions)

I'll have to check out the timetable - thanks for pointing this out - perhaps we can go together and chat about it afterwards.

Raphael said...


There will be one PSC fringe like at every Green Party conference since I have been a member.

There will also be a fringe chaired by John Norris about his draft paper on Israel/Palestine which is supposed to become at some point party policy in the MFSS while all other country specific party policy have been removed from the MFSS two years ago.

However, you are right, there was no time for a fringe on antisemitism (note that the motions are on antisemitism, not Israel/Palestine) and the one we proposed with academic David Hirsh,* was therefore not allowed.


*Hirsh paper "Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections." can be downloaded here:

Another interesting paper by Shalom Lappin: "This Green and Pleasant Land: Britain and the Jews"