UPDATE April 13, 2014: Good news, “Identity and Exile” is now available in the US on Youtube. You can watch it at the following links:
I spent most of 2013 working on a film for Al Jazeera English’s “Correspondent” series, which follows an AJE journalist as they embark on a personal journey to explore an issue important to them. For my film I chose to look at how support for Israel has come to define Jewish-American identity. I was raised Jewish in Chicago, and as a supporter of the Palestinian struggle this is an issue I’ve struggled with for many years.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of Jews migrated from Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia to the US, settling across the country’s big cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago where they found opportunity and established strong communities. Those communities continued to grow in the subsequent decades as more Jews fled anti-Semitism across Europe.
A growing number of Jews also migrated to Palestine at the turn of the century, part of a nascent Zionist movement. Migration to Palestine increased after World War I. At the end of World War II, following the horrors of the holocaust, the state of Israel was created in what had previously been British-controlled Palestine. In the process, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, exiled into neighbouring countries and refugee camps.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the land continues to this day. How does this contentious issue affect Judaism in the US? Why is there such strong support for Israel in the US irrespective of the issue or cost?
Al Jazeera’s Matthew Cassel travels back to his native Chicago where he was raised Jewish. He talks to local rabbis, friends and family about why so many in the Jewish-American community believe it is important to maintain support for Israel … no matter what.
And he travels back to Palestine to retrace his steps as a young man. At that time, during the second Intifada, he was shocked to discover the impact Israeli policies were having on Palestinians.
He tries to understand how Jewish religious beliefs have turned into a political cause that he does not agree with – but that the US actively accepts and supports.