Oscar acceptance speeches are to culture what tax audits are to a small business: nasty, brutish, and somehow never short enough. And yet, when Jonathan Glazer took the stage at the 96th Academy Awards earlier this year to accept the statuette for Best International Film, he delivered the rare oration that was greater even than the movie he’d written and directed. In a few short and glorious sentences that have since launched a thousand think pieces, Jonathan Glazer told the truth.

Let us—because it’s been a moment since this lion of cinema rose up and roared at Hollywood—recall Glazer’s fiery words.

“Right now,” he said from the stage of the Dolby Theatre, “we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October—whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist?”

Some mirthless fusspots rushed to note that Glazer was awfully incoherent for a man who’d just won a very big award for writing a thinky film about Auschwitz called The Zone of Interest. Did he mean, they queried, that he and his two producers, who stood beside him, are themselves men who refute their Jewishness? Or merely that they refute the fact that their Jewishness had been hijacked by those who cheer on Israel’s military escapades? The meaning, the critics noted, was unclear.

Such nitpickery is missing the point. Glazer’s speech was stunning and brave because it demonstrated, like few addresses before it, and in front of 19.5 million viewers, the complete, total, and utter moral, spiritual, and intellectual bankruptcy of vast swaths of mainstream liberal Judaism.

In a few mumbly, stumbly sentences, Glazer laid out the credo shared by so many of our self-appointed intellectual and moral betters. In the beginning, goes this leftist theology, was “The Occupation,” the conflict’s cardinal sin, committed, alas, by the Jews. And The Occupation beget The Cycle of Violence, pitting the sons of Jacob against the sons of Ishmael, both righteous and both rightfully aggrieved and both, curses, capable of shedding blood. Israelis and Palestinians, in this telling, are coiled together like a big, bruised Ouroboros, with each fresh outrage prompting the snake to chomp just a bit further on its own tail. And to stop it, we need little more than for brave men and women to straighten the lapel of their tuxedos, smooth the hem of their dresses, put on a pin, and demand, politely but firmly, that the killing stop.

You could spend hours, days even, amusing yourself by tearing this worldview to shreds. You could note, for example, that the brave and noble struggle to end the Israeli occupation magically began three years before the occupation itself. For Israel took control of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, three years after an Egyptian con man named Yasser Arafat declared himself a Palestinian and merrily busied himself killing Jews. Or you could speak at length about the three-decades-old travesty known as the Oslo Accords, a strategic blunder that left thousands of Israelis dead, set up a despotic and murderous Palestinian Authority that pays its citizens to slaughter Jews, and saw the Palestinian leadership consistently, even comically, reject any attempt to reach anything resembling reconciliation.

But don’t waste your time grousing at the Glazers of this world. Theirs isn’t a reasoned, reasonable way of seeing things. It’s an ecstatic faith, and though it loves wrapping itself in the gilded garbs of objectivity, rationality, and universalist compassion, it is, at its core, a cult.

Here are the liberal Jewish cult’s core beliefs:

  • The disparate hamulas, or feuding clans, that occupy the towns and villages of Judea and Samaria secretly possess, despite all appearances to the contrary, a distinct and innate sense of peoplehood. They are the Palestinian People.
  • And though they have a funny way of showing it whenever anyone makes them a concrete and binding offer, the Palestinian People want just one thing: the establishment of a sovereign nation in its indigenous homeland.
  • It’s a perfect—and perfectly pleasant—idea to understand: Palestinians and Jews, Yin and Yang, their desires and frustrations intertwined, eager to find some way to share their narrow and too-promised strip of earth. And the only thing standing between them and Heaven are Very Bad Men: Bibi Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir, but also the goons of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. There are, of course, Very Bad Men on both sides, both equally contemptible.
  • The solution, then, is simple: Israel withdraws from the occupied territories, the Palestinians declare a state, both sides see the benefits of peace and prosperity, the Very Bad Men go away.
  • And only if and when that happens can we all be Jews again, because, otherwise, our virtuous faith will be stripped of all its pretty talk of tikkun olam and left instead with little but the gross bits about not eating shrimp or not marrying non-Jews. Therefore, we can’t really be Jews until we’ve fully embraced the Palestinians. QED.

In 1956, Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter published a book titled When Prophecy Fails. They wanted to see what happened when members of a lunatic cult realized that the insane predictions at the core of their worldview were proven false. The cult’s leader, a Chicago housewife named Dorothy Martin, claimed she was receiving transmissions from the planet Clarion, telling her, with great certainty, that the United States would be devastated by a biblical flood on December 21, 1954. Showing up on a very dry December 22, the researchers observed a fascinating phenomenon: The cult’s true believers were not dissuaded by having reality curtly and resolutely slap them in the face. Instead, they doubled down on their kooky beliefs. They might have gotten the date a bit wrong, they argued, but Clarion never lied. The flood was coming. It was time to build big arks.

The Glazers in our midst ought to commiserate. Did Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza lead to the rise of Hamas and the horrors of October 7? Well, then, the answer is more withdrawals. Did billions of dollars in aid allow the Islamist marauders to arm themselves to the teeth while starving their own population? Send more cash. Did the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank turn out to be a despotic, demonic tyranny? We need another one in Gaza.

Laugh off the above at your own peril. After Glazer delivered his cri de coeur, hundreds of Jewish artists, intellectuals, and writers signed a petition denouncing his words. It was a heartfelt effort, but it failed to get to the heart of the problem: Jonathan Glazer, c’est nous.

We perfectly respectable and warm Jews who truly care about our faith and our community and love Israel may not stand up in wartime and hint at some sense of equivalency between victims and perpetrators, but many of us live in precisely the same moral universe that Glazer so perfectly captured in his speech—a universe in which Jewish life is unthinkable unless it cares deeply about, and proposes some practical and laudable solution to, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

As the war in Gaza rages on, and as escalation simmers on the Lebanese border, this imagined moral universe seems very far removed from the real one on the ground. In reality, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have now internalized a few hard truths:

  • There’s no such thing as a Palestinian people.
  • There’s no real difference between Hamas and Fatah.
  • The overwhelming majority of Palestinians aren’t interested in building a robust, flourishing state where they can live and work in dignity, prosperity, and peace. They’re interested in righting what they believe is the fundamental wrong of their existence, the Jewish state next door, an abomination that must be destroyed no matter how long it takes or how many must die in the process.
  • To protect itself and secure its peaceful existence, Israel will have to seize territories it needs to control, in Gaza and Lebanon alike. This will involve displacing more civilians and will lead to more international condemnation.
  • But above all, it will mean the end of the “peace process” and an era marked by the belief that we were marching, however haltingly, into a warm embrace with the rest of the world.

Compare these insights to the tenets of liberal American Judaism, and you’ll see they have almost nothing in common. And that, precisely, was the point of Jonathan Glazer’s speech. It was incoherent not because the Brit didn’t know better words, but because he realized, as good artists often do, that we’ve reached a point in which words could no longer make sense of our moment in time. It was no longer about contorting yourself into ridiculous arguments like “I support Israel but oppose its government, its policies, and the plurality of people who elected it.” It was now about picking sides, simply and bluntly. Pick Team Israel, and you’re siding with a country that must now do some very difficult things to defend itself against the rapists of girls and the beheaders of babies. Pick Team Enlightenment, and, sooner or later, you’re going to sound more or less like Jonathan Glazer, screaming, “Please, Lord, don’t lump me in with my savage brothers.”

For a while, many of the nice and warm liberals in our midst will try to resist this insight with fury. They’ll argue that only machines, small children, and zealots think in binaries, and that responsible people must acknowledge that reality contains multitudes. They’ll spend a lot of time and energy arguing about whether this military operation was justified or that IDF strike defensible.

They’ll bicker about Bibi, and they’ll say that it’s important, especially in times of war, to lament for the innocent victims on both sides. They’ll do this because their main goal is to restore the peace and return to the hope of Oslo, the hope of being normal, just like everyone else.

But that’s no longer the main goal of Israeli Jews. Israeli Jews no longer want to make peace. They want to win the war. They are increasingly disabused of the notion, which had led them to one middling military achievement after another and did nothing to keep them safe, that you can negotiate with Hamas and Hezbollah, which means that you must allow these enemies their dignity and refrain from hitting them as hard as you can. Israel’s goal now, quite bluntly, is to wipe these organizations off the face of the earth.

Americans, including most American Jews, are asking what Israel’s plan is for the day after. To Israelis, the question seems obscene. They’re not focused on who will govern Khan Younis when this is all over, or on what to do with the Gazan refugees. They’re focused on surviving, a task that, right now, calls first and foremost for the casting off of three decades of illusions and for the absolute annihilation of their enemies.

How many American Jews will sign on for what comes next? Jonathan Glazer’s bet is not too many, and he is, I fear, correct.

Somewhere on the margins, a few of us—a quarter? a third?—will double down on Judaism, not only in our support for the Jewish state but also in realizing that if the world is forcing us to choose between a hard life as proud Jews and enjoying illustrious careers and material comfort and the pleasant fragrance of our peers’ approval, we’ve no doubt how we want to live.

And the rest? The rest will skulk away, rationalizing their disengagement by blaming politicians or policies or circumstances or just quietly retreating from any public showing of Jewish solidarity. They will, in other words, refute their Jewishness, just as the prophet Jonathan Glazer had foretold.

Photo: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

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