For More Than a Century, Cinema Has Portrayed Jewish Soldiers as Cowardly, or Worse

Created during World War II, Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) is the rough equivalent of the American Delta Force or Navy Seals. A recent BBC miniseries, SAS: Rogue Heroes, offers a fictionalized version of its creation and operations in Africa in 1941. Benjamin Vos notes that the show follows a long line of war movies that depict Jews as unmartial and unmanly:

SAS Rogue Heroes features one Jewish character, the fictional French soldier Halévy. Unlike the rangy, fit SAS men, he is small and portly, can’t mount a truck without help, is bullied, and almost flunks a test of bravery. While his comrades seem inherently warlike, Halévy fights specifically to avenge his deported family. His graduation to bravery necessitates his own death, as he immolates the traitor Brückner, himself, and others in an explosion.

Halévy first appears when, among a group of soldiers standing to attention, he sneezes and is laughed at. Halévy’s humiliation, unsoldierly reticence, moral preoccupation, and self-sacrifice continue a grisly dramatic tradition of fictional Jewish soldiers being bumbling, cowardly, or otherwise unfit to fight. The lucky ones die quickly.

This comic-relief role for Jewish soldiers has been a constant for well over a century. In Cohen Saves the Flag (1912), two Jews at Gettysburg put romantic rivalry above the interests of the Union Army. The running joke about lascivious and cowardly Private Lipinsky in What Price Glory? (1926) is the size of his nose.

Vos traces these tropes in films over the decades, and also notes some even more insidious stereotypes—which persist into the 21st century—of Jews as treacherous or lecherous. In other movies, their deaths provide salvation for their Gentile comrades:

Stalag 17 (1953) is a tense tale of betrayal among angry, violent POWs, within which Harry Shapiro is unreliable, vulgar, and indebted—and lusts after female Russian prisoners. . . . Corporal Gabby Gordon in Objective, Burma! (1945) is a standard-issue daft Jewish soldier. In the film, a Lt. Jacobs is tortured by the Japanese but passes on a vital message before dying. Jews [tend to] die to impart benefit to other characters or even moral instruction to viewers. In The Deep Six (1958), Frenchy Shapiro dies after rescuing his Quaker friend from Japanese soldiers. More significantly, Anzio (1968) features licentious Corporal Rabinoff who dies while drawing German fire from his non-Jewish comrades. Rabinoff’s death inspires a moral epiphany in a cynical war journalist.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Film, Jews in the military

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood