The Latest “Star Wars” Movie Makes Mistakes about Religion That Should Feel Familiar to American Jews

Dec. 26 2017

The screenwriters of The Last Jedi, argues Liel Leibovitz, seem to have replaced the creed that figures in the earlier Star Wars films with a watered-down version—what Leibovitz terms “Reform Jediism.” He writes:

Who is a Jedi? The question has been answered several times in divergent ways in the different Star Wars movies. . . . This being 2017, however, the latest [installment] posits a different approach altogether: the Force, [the mystical power that, in the films’ mythology, gives Jedi warriors their abilities and wisdom], is everywhere and for everyone, no study or observance necessary. . . . The ancient, sacred Jedi texts, we are told, . . . are boring rubbish, and the ancient Jedi practices . . . are a waste of time. To be a Jedi . . . you only need to feel like a Jedi, because the old religion wasn’t about the ethics of the fathers but about tikkun olam, which everyone can achieve just by being, you know, a good person. Toss in a few bagels, and you can say that Jediism, really, isn’t a religion but a culture or something.

This bit of theological inanity also makes the movie sag. Instead of fighting [their antagonists] with skill and determination, the rebels . . . are busy bickering about the root causes of evil. Like some galactic fringe group—call them J(edi) Street, or, better yet, Jedi Voice for Peace—these would-be warriors worry that the homicidal maniacs who had just murdered everyone the Jedis love in cold blood may not be, you know, bad, but simply misunderstood or even oppressed. . . .

For [some] American Jewish audiences, then, The Last Jedi can feel almost like a documentary, a sordid story about a small community eager to trade in the old and onerous traditions for the glittery and airy creed of universalist kumbaya that, like so much sound and fury, signifies nothing. . . .

But it’s hard to blame these sunken soldiers for bungling the fight. Instead of a concrete belief, a solid faith with specific rules and concrete decrees, they cling to a feeling, sweet and fleeting, that people are good and worth saving. It’s a noble idea, but unless it is rooted in the hard earth of nation or religion, it tends to melt into air. Untutored in the old ways of the Force, the young rebels have nothing to guide them in their struggle except their passions and their pride, both of which lead to disaster.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: American Judaism, Arts & Culture, Film, Star Wars, Tikkun Olam

While Pursuing a Thaw with Israel, Saudi Arabia Foments Anti-Semitism at Home

July 18 2018

For the better part of this century, Jerusalem and Riyadh have cooperated clandestinely to contain Iran’s growing power. The kingdom has also increasingly aimed its diplomatic and propaganda efforts against Qatar, whose funding of Islamist groups—including Hamas—has damaged both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But, writes Edy Cohen, there’s a dark side to Riyadh’s efforts against the enemies of the Jewish state:

The [Saudi cyberwarfare agency’s] Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the [Qatar-sponsored] Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“‘The deal of the century’ is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the Zionist entity,’” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of [Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. Yet another tweet alleges that Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase existing hatred toward Jews and Israel.

The Saudis, then, are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hizballah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the state of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in that dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published daily, while the Israeli populace is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears. Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to incite “moderately” against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement (BDS). We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a price.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Qatar, Saudi Arabia