Irony at the Oscars

Live life long enough and you will learn that history often has a sense of dark humor. When someone’s accomplishment succeeds at disproving his opinion, it is a stark reminder that the world is run with innate irony. Such an event happened last month at the Oscars and deserves mention.

When accepting the Oscar for best international film, director Jonathan Glazer used the opportunity to implicitly condemn Israel, stating that “Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. Right now, 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 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza.” His film, The Zone of Interest, ingeniously and very powerfully depicts the horrible dehumanization that caused the Holocaust. However, by doing so, it doesn’t reflect poorly on Israel’s relationship to and actions in Gaza. It powerfully vindicates them.

Using powerful cinematic techniques, the film realistically depicts day to day life in the house of Rudoff Hoss, an SS officer living with his family in a picturesque house bordering the Auschwitz concentration camp. His wife plants a beautiful garden and hosts friends and the children celebrate a birthday party, enjoying themselves in a pool. All the while, the residents of the house are seemingly oblivious to what is going on on the other side of the wall. The film never shows the atrocities, but the horrible sounds of gunshots, shouts, trains and ovens are heard over the mundane actions of the house’s inhabitants and servants, eerily highlighting their willing blind eyes to the horror that is happening just a few paces away.

The chilling message about the possible depths of our humanity is obvious. In frustration for their current weak situation, the Germans had found a scapegoat – the Jews. And in blaming them for their predicament, the Germans had so convinced themselves of the Jews being evil that they had, in their minds, completely removed them from the human race. How else could, as depicted, Rudoff Hoss discuss the production of a new crematorium with the cool composed feeling of someone buying a new air conditioner? How could parties be thrown and gardens attended to with such sounds unless the sounds had been mentally down-graded to those of an animal slaughterhouse?

But therein lies the false comparison to Israel relationship and actions towards Gaza. Hilter’s narrative was a farce and the Jews in the camp bordering Hess’s home were no more a threat to Germany than a fly is to a gorilla. However, Israel is not fighting the artificial boogeyman of some nefarious conspiracy, they are fighting a threat that has done much damage to them and continues to threaten their very existence. Even before Oct. 7, those living on the border of Gaza weren’t simply haunted by shouts and screams, but by almost daily deadly missile attacks. Nor did they respond by dehumanizing the entire population responsible for those attacks. Instead, they provided them with water and work permits. One may also correct me if I am wrong, but I also don’t recall Jews holding German civilians hostage in hidden tunnels in the death camps, trying to goad the Nazi’s into atrocities.

That isn’t to say there isn’t some room for comparison. Yes, Gaza has become a horrible war zone and even before Oct. 7, portions of Gaza had conditions of a concentration camp. But most of the concentration-like nature of Gaza was from an internal power that dehumanized its own people to the point that rockets and tunnels were more important than food, shelter and security. And yes, like the Jewish refugees of Nazism, no country that pretends to care about the Palestinian people seems willing to take in the innocents to save them from suffering.

Even now, to characterize Israel as a country that has dehumanized Palestinians to a point where people lead a normal life while the helpless perish is hard to support. No one is partying in Israel and life is far from normal. Those whose houses border the “concentration camp” of Gaza aren’t having parties, they have evacuated their homes and live in crowded hotels. And, unlike Germans during the holocaust, Israeli soldiers who kill the unarmed unnecessarily or even desecrate religious sites aren’t awarded accolades, they are investigated and removed. The only recent dehumanization of the level depicted in the film were the depraved actions filmed and posted by the perpetrators of the Oct. 7th attacks.

Many religious students of the Talmud have been reluctant to use Marcus Jastrow’s dictionary of Aramaic because of his supposed comments and attitude towards the archaic nature of the study. Others see its use as the ultimate refutation of his statements. What better way to prove him wrong than to do it using his own work. The same can be said and done with Johnathan Glazer’s monumental film. What better way to show his misguided comments as false than by a careful study and contrast of the film’s chilling content versus today’s unfortunate reality.

About the Author
Yehoshua Goldfinger is a Yeshiva educated Software Engineer, having spent 10 years in 3 different Yeshivos post-high school and spending the last decade working in defense, logistics and now finance. He loves bouncing the ideas he sees in both worlds off each other. He lives in the Orthodox Jewish community of Baltimore, MD with his wonderful wife and five terrific kids.
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