Opinions & Commentary

Academic anti-Zionism in Marblehead

A still from the film, “The Occupation of the American Mind” A still from the film, “The Occupation of the American Mind” On Nov. 5, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Marblehead screened “The Occupation of the American Mind,” a nasty piece of anti-Israel propaganda disguised as legitimate academic research. The film purports to make the case, once again, for a Palestinian population victimized by Israel through an oppressive military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The same film played last year at the MFA as part of the Boston Palestinian Film Festival. At the time, we criticized the film, as we criticize many works of this ilk, for failing to assign any responsibility for living conditions in Palestinian communities to the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, which has an annual budget of billions, much of which it receives directly in international aid.

Simply put, that Palestinians would prefer to divert those resources from their civilian population and toward funding offensive military and terrorist operations is not the fault of Israel, and films such as this, which promote that narrative, are not so much documentary as they are fiction.

A quarter century ago, the film’s producer, Prof. Sut Jhally of UMass Amherst, was a communication scholar of some repute. His reputation as an anti-consumerism crusader of the left was based in large part on a series of documentaries called “Dreamworlds,” an exegesis of TV commercials and their pernicious effect on the American psyche.

Jhally’s films since then – always more pedantic than entertaining – failed to strike the same chord, even in the ivory tower, as his earlier works. The current work strikes us as the producer’s rather desperate attempt to regain a degree of relevance by embracing a cause célèbre.

Academics are notoriously inept at gauging the popular zeitgeist, and Jhally offers another example with his choice for the film’s narrator, Roger Waters. The former Pink Floyd front man may be the most visible proponent of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, but his fame crescendoed 30 years ago. We remain skeptical about Waters’ ability to create any converts to the Palestinian cause or to attract widespread attention to the film.

Prof. Jhally is also an example of how some members of the academic left have lost their moral compass. Here we have a once respected scholar who espoused a principled critical position on corporate capitalism, now reduced to a shill for that Marxist bugaboo, nationalism. An ironic contradiction, to be sure, and for leftists, a tragedy.


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