Directors: Eric Axelman and Sam Eilertsen
United States, Israel, Palestine, 2023, 85 min
WINNER: Spirit Award
Cast:Simone Zimmerman, Abe Foxman, Peter Beinart, Noura Erakat, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Baha Hilo, Sami Awad
Crew:Writers: Eric Axelman & Sam Eilertsen. Producers: Eric Axelman, Daniel J. Chalfen, Nadia Saah . Cinematography: Sam Eilertsen. Editor: Tony hale
The role of Israel in American Jewish identity is challenged when SIMONE ZIMMERMAN and EITAN join an awakening within the community after they witness Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people first-hand. Heartbroken and enraged at the older generation of American Jews who raised them to defend the State of Israel at all costs, they join a struggle not just for Palestinian rights but also within the Jewish community, pitted against those engaged with a mass mobilization to ensure that young American Jews remain pro-Israel. The journey of these two young American Jews reflects a sweeping grassroots change within the community that will have major implications on how an ancient religion is evolving, and on America’s deep yet controversial relationship with Israel. Featuring NOAM CHOMSKY, CORNEL WEST, PETER BEINART, NOURA ERAKAT, ABE FOXMAN, and LARA FRIEDMAN.
About the directors
Eric Axelman - Director/Producer: Eric is a trans Jewish filmmaker, based out of Somerville, MA. Israelism is their directorial debut. Eric and Sam founded Tikkun Olam Productions, a nonprofit filmmaking collective that focuses on documenting and supporting movements for justice. Eric has produced videos for Senator Ed Markey, as well as Congressman Jamaal Bowman. They’ve also produced a series of short videos with Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In addition to Israelism they are currently producing the upcoming feature documentary Generation Green New Deal.
Sam Eilertsen - Director/Director of Photography: Sam worked for a decade as a cinematographer and editor on narrative and documentary projects before directing Israelism, which is his directorial debut. He is also directing the upcoming documentary Generation Green New Deal, which follows the youth climate movement, and Vs Goliath, a documentary series on frontline environmental justice activists, which was selected for the prestigious CNN/Film Independent 2023 Docuseries Intensive.
Growing up Jewish in rural Maine, in the town of Skowhegan, being a Jew was not something that made one proud - it instead made one different, and stereotypical images I saw throughout my early life presented Jews as weak and othered. Then I discovered Israel, and my Jewish identity changed forever. For my Bar-Mitzvah I was given the novel, ‘Exodus,’ a heroic story of the creation of Israel. As a trans child (desperately afraid of their queerness and wishing to hide it), these stories made me feel empowered and strong. I fell in love with Israel. Most American Jewish communities I soon found out - though not exactly my own - presented Israel as a core component of Judaism to Jewish young people. I learned that only through the state of Israel could Jews around the world feel safe and proud, especially after the horrors of the Holocaust. I began reading everything I possibly could about Israeli history, and even though I was the only self-identifying Jewish kid in my high school, I began publicly wearing a Star of David around my neck.
Then I discovered Palestine. I did a year long independent study on the history of Zionism my senior year of high school, and my teacher serendipitously gave me primarily Palestinian historical texts. After the first book I was confused. After the second I was devastated. After the third, heartbroken. Basic facts of Palestinian history tore at the narratives I had come to so closely associate. I learned about both the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 that led to 750,000 Palestinians being driven permanently from their homes - and the Occupation - the now 54 year old brutal military occupation that Israel carries out in the West Bank which leaves Palestinians citizenless. Soon after, I traveled to the West Bank myself and saw the 8 meter high concrete walls surrounding Palestinian cities, the hundreds of military checkpoints limiting civilian movement, and the Israeli settlers actively colonizing the West Bank. The transformation I went through was deeply difficult emotionally, and changed my perception of modern Judaism and the community that had centered Israel so strongly.
In college I saw - over and over again - what happened to me happen to hundreds of other Jewish young people. To most Jewish students I met, the Israel I had fallen in love with at 13 had been with them since birth, and when they came into contact with Palestinian narratives, their core identities became shaken. I began to realize that I was seeing a mass phenomenon occur before my eyes as thousands of Jewish students for the first time learned about about Palestinian history, found themselves heartbroken, and eventually began working in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. I also began witnessing the massive backlash to this communal splintering, as established Jewish leaders who still fully believed in Israel did all they could to bring disaffected Jewish Americans back into their fold - and if that was impossible, punish and culturally isolate them.
This story of American Jews first loving Israel, learning deeply about Palestinian suffering, then ultimately sympathizing with the Palestinian cause, is part of the larger arc of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a team we have assembled one of the most diverse and renowned casts for any film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we’ve brought together a highly experienced and Emmy award-winning crew, including our Emmy winning editor Tony Hale, as well as our two-time Emmy winning Executive Producer Brian A. Kates and our four-time Emmy nominated producer Daniel Chalfen. I believe Israelism will tell the as yet untold story of the deeply complex, deeply heartfelt, and deeply tragic tale of the ever changing American Jewish relationship to Israel.
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