Editor's note: This is the first in a series of previews of movies to be shown in the Covellite International Film Festival Sept. 15 through 18 in Butte.
In the trailer for “The Radical Jew” — a documentary in the Covellite International Film Festival in Butte — a man with a long, slightly graying beard stares out from a black-and-white screen.
“We don’t hate Arabs because they’re Arabs,” the man pointedly tells audience members. “We hate them because they are our enemy.”
The scene is an intimate, close-up view of a man most Americans have likely never heard of but who is perhaps one of the most infamous political leaders in Israel.
That man is Baruch Marzel.
An American-born Israeli, Marzel was the leader of the far-right political party Kach in 1995, the same year Israel banned the organization as a terrorist group.
In the film, viewers learn about Marzel’s childhood, military service in the 1982 Lebanon War — during which, Marzel claims in the film, he killed seven Syrian commandos, three of whom he said he had taken as prisoners — and his relationship with Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Kach party.
A controversial figure, Kahane started the Jewish Defense League in New York City in the 1960s. He moved from the United States to Israel in 1971 and in 1984 made a successful bid for a seat in the Israeli parliament, where he proposed, among other things, banning marriage between Jews and Arabs and segregated beaches. In 1988 his party was banned from parliament.
The rhetoric spouted by Kahane and Marzel in “The Radical Jew” may be distressing to some viewers. However, filmmaker Noam Osband says “The Radical Jew” isn’t about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, he said, it’s a film about extremism.
“I wanted (it) to be a thoughtful meditation” said Osband, pointing out that extremists come in all shades and stripes. “I think it’s a very sort of universal film. I shared the film to somebody who is from the Middle East who lived underneath Al-Qaeda for a period, and he said … Muslim extremists would sound just like this.”
But what perhaps remains the same among all extremists is the tendency to see the world in terms of black and white, good versus evil — us versus them.
“What does it mean to have a Manichean worldview?” asked Osband. “I wanted to try to make a film that lets us think about that.”
To make “The Radical Jew,” Osband traveled to Marzel’s current home city of Hebron, which he describes in the film synopsis as “the most violent city in the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Osband, who lived in Hebron for a month and even spent a few nights at Marzel’s house, said what is most surprising about the former Kach leader is his humanity.
Indeed, in one moment in the film, Marzel speaks graphically about the seven Syrian commandos he killed in Lebanon, a scene juxtaposed by the very next in which he dances with his grandchildren, slipping pink pieces of cotton candy into their mouths.
“He’s extremely affectionate with his grandkids,” said Osband, who described Marzel as a gregarious character.
“There was something about it that was so striking to me,” Osband continued. “Often when we have people with views that are strong and that we might not agree with, we’re unnerved by thinking about them being human beings, too.”
Interestingly, Osband is a distant relative of Marzel’s.
A native of a suburb of Boston, Osband said he became interested in the man after hearing stories about him during family gatherings.
Today Osband is pursuing a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, where, he said, he took a film class that spurred his interest in the medium. He said he sees film as a way to distill the intellectualism of academia and portray it in a format that is more inviting and poignant.
As for the city of Hebron, Osband describes it as a place where Jews and Arabs walk on opposite sides of the street in some neighborhoods — a place where lines are drawn not only ideologically but also quite literally.
“Hebron to me is the world’s most depressing biblical theme park,” Osband said. “It’s just very tense and kind of sad.”
“You know, you feel like Rodney King — ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ But the world is just not that simple,” he said.