Zohan and the Quest for Jewish Utopia

By Michael B. Oren

Adam Sandler's hit comedy reflects a deep divide between Israeli and American Jews.

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ne would have to be an incorrigible curmudgeon to dislike Adam Sandler’s blockbuster comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan—that, or an inveterate Zionist. Salon.com’s Stephanie Zacharek praised the movie’s effort to parse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “to bridge a gap that most of us, dispiritingly, have come to believe is unbridgeable.”1 Alex Dorn of Ugo.com claimed that “I laughed til tears came out of my eyes,”2 and Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe admitted that “nothing has brought me more cheap pleasure at a movie this year.”3 Most unexpectedly, Zohan also garnered kudos from the Israeli media. Israeli TV’s Channel 2 called it “the most Israeli movie ever produced in America,” and the Hebrew website Achbar Ha’ir Online wrote that “the movie’s depiction of Israeliness has been received with open arms by the Ministry of Information.”4 Jerusalem Post columnist Sam Friedman called it “the first… American movie to portray everyday Israel,”5 and the paper’s editor, David Horovitz, deemed it “the most overtly pro-Israel movie to come out of Hollywood since Exodus.”6

What then, besides an aversion to hummus—used alternately in the film as toothpaste, cat food, and sexual lubricant—could anyone find objectionable in Sandler’s burlesque about an Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to start a career as a New York hairdresser? Certainly not the image of Israel it conveys, not so much a country as a nonstop beach party, teeming with caramelized vixens and hot-blooded adolescents. Zohan himself is a paragon of the macho Israeli, who feels no need to apologize for his use of physical force in the service of his cause. Undoubtedly, Zohan departs radically from the stereotypical cinematic image of an Israel steeped in terror and defended by ambivalent Jews devoured by self-doubt. And yet, more than any other movie—indeed, perhaps more than any other work of popular entertainment, and certainly one produced by Jews—Zohan repudiates the Zionist idea.

Michael B. Oren is ’s Ambassador to the . He was formerly a Distinguished Fellow at the in Jerusalem, an academic and research institute, and a contributing editor of AZURE.

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