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Israel: A Twice Promised Land (PBS) and Land of our Father (BBC4)

There were two interesting documentaries on Israel on Tuesday night.

The first on PBS supported my view that 1967 was a watershed in Israeli history.

In that year Israel achieved a significant victory in just six days over their invading Arab neighbours.

Up till then Israel had global sympathy as a fledgling country – a home for those persecuted in World War Two – but after that David became Goliath and Israel more viewed as a colonial oppressive state.

This came about by a misjudgment, namely that the Palestinians could be absorbed into the Israeli state and would forget over time their claims to its land.

They did not.

The pan-Arabist Gamal Nasser in 1967 had fuelled anti-Israel feeling with a rhetoric not that far removed from the Nazis.

That caused considerable fear in Israel.

Levi Eshkol – who succeeded David ben Gurion – was a weak man and influenced by his militarists like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin in the view that they must strike first.

This documentary cast considerable doubt as to whether Egypt and Syria would have succeeded and the end result was that Israel occupied the Sinai, Golan Heights and crucially Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There was little Palestinian land left.

Not supported by the Arab leaders, the PLO under Yasser Arafat resorted to terrorism which did their cause little good. The Israelis hoped the problem would go away.

There was some integration under the enlightened mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek – and 30 Israeli Arab MPs in the Knesset – but there was also settlement on the West Bank and Gaza.

It now seems a terrible misjudgement, all the more as Israel had the backing of the USA whereas the principal Arab supporter (Russia) was in decline.

The second documentary featured corruption and abuse in a Hasidic community in Yavniel, North Israel, whose mystical leader Rabbi Mohorosh, based in Brooklyn, built up huge wealth by donations.

Two women who escaped complained of systemic sexual abuse and forced marriage at the age of 14 but the chief witness was Moishe – the son of the Rabbi – who is involved in legal action over his inheritance and was forcibly expelled from Yavniel.

The problem is that such communities do not like intrusion and prefer to sort out their problems internally so we had no opposing testimony.

Of the two documentaries I found Twice Promised Land the more convincing, largely because of the eloquence of Israeli historians critical of the policy towards the Palestinians.

In Land of Our Father there was an admission that not all girls were abused in Yavniel, nor that all members of the cult were abusers, but one significant fact was omitted – namely that these Hasidic sects are only a small percentage of global Jewry.

They accounted for only 45% of the small town of Yavniel.

Though the religious right have never had so much power as they now possess in Israel, the founding fathers including Menachem Begin, who became orthodox once he became Premier, were secular.

My own view is that any community must follow the laws of the country in which they are based and in Israel marriage is prohibited until the age of 18.

I also believe that these communities who, in this case, clearly do much good work for repentant Jews need to be more transparent.

I did not see the Rebecca Vardy programme but having grown up as a Jehovah’s Witness, she attacked that church but no one from it defended it against her accusations.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts