Even Though My Land Is Burning is the kind of film that will warm any lefty's heart. We meet Ben, an Israeli anarchist from Tel Aviv, and Mohammad, a Palestinian from the village Nabi Saleh. These two young men were raised to mistrust, even hate each other. Yet they demonstrate arm in arm – against racism and against border walls.
This documentary was made by the Jerusalem-born, Berlin-based director Dror Dayan. I first met Dror after he was arrested in front of the Bundeskanzleramt while protesting against Netanyahu. (The Berlin police had claimed his protest sign was antisemitic!)
When his film premiered at Berlin's Moviemento cinema on March 4, 150 lefties of many different nationalities showed up to watch Jews and Arabs working together against the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Around the world, there's a pretty simple dichotomy: The right supports the Israeli government, while the left supports the Palestinian struggle for self-determination (and the Israeli anti-occupation movement).
But here it's a little more complicated: the Middle East conflict is processed differently in the German left. At the beginning of the millennia, a sector of the radical left declared it was the responsibility of all Germans – and especially German antifascists – to defend the state of Israel. They use slightly confusing slogans like "For Communism! Long Live Israel!" (Trying to explain this "Antideutsche" movement makes my head hurt. Fortunately, someone wrote a detailed summary in English.)
At Dayan's film premiere, a group of about 40 Germans draped in Israeli flags showed up to protest the "antisemitic" documentary. As Dror explained in an interview: "It's of course possible that one or two Jewish people were amongst the pro-Israel demonstrators. But as I saw things, the protest was almost exclusively white and German." I can confirm this observation – these biodeutsche Antifa Hipsters in their black hoodies are impossible to miss.
So a number of Jewish people were in front of the cinema, waiting for the film to start, some wearing kippas or speaking Hebrew. And across the street, separated by police, were Germans declaring: "We stand with Israel!" And answering the German Anti-Deutsche, Dayan was holding a sign reading: "Can't silence critical Jewish voices". It was all kind of surreal.
One has to wonder: How can these German protesters be so lacking in self-awareness? I mean: A good number of them must have grandfathers or great-grandfathers who were protesting back in the day: "Deutsche, kauft nicht bei Juden!" And now they are trying to prevent a German theater from showing a film by a Jewish director with a Jewish protagonist? And now they're doing it in the name of fighting antisemitism?!?
After the 150 people had gone into the theater, about 200 Meters down the road, three men in sunglasses and black hoodies gave the Hitler salute in the direction of the pro-Israel demonstration. No one knows who these provocateurs were, but they clearly had nothing to do with the Jewish film premiere. Nonetheless, most of the press reports have focussed on the fascist gesture.
After I wrote about Dror's film, my Facebook profile received new accusations of antisemitism about every 20 seconds for the next two days. And I've got to say, it left me feeling pretty shaken – I couldn't write about this topic at all last week. My Israeli activist friends are some of the people I love most in the world – people like Ben from the movie who fight against racism every day, despite living in a terribly right-wing society. If an Israeli accused me of a conscious or unconscious hatred of Jews, I would have to think long and hard. But hearing this accusation from German goys is just downright weird.
The feminist writer Laurie Penny just published a letter to the German left about this very problem. She calls it "an unnerving experience for a foreigner of Jewish descent like myself to open up Twitter and find German people comparing you to Hitler." And while she understands some of the German left's complexes, she closes: "It is not the job of the German left to tell Jews around the world what political opinions they should hold – and it never will be."
I have gained a huge respect for the team at Moviemento. They had to put up with weeks of threats and insults to show an inspiring Israeli film. In the end, they even brought out tea and kosher cookies to the pro-Israel-demonstrators, to no avail. But they will be showing the film again next Monday, with the director on hand for a discussion. From my own experience, I can assure you: It's worth a few accusations of antisemitism to see this movie.
Next showing of Even Though My Land Is Burning: Monday, March 21, 18:30, Moviemento, Kottbusser Damm 22