Gilad Atzmon – Messing with the Zohan

Gilad Atzmon – Messing with the Zohan

Sep 18th, 2008 

“You Don't Mess with the Zohan” is a new American comedy film. It tells the story of Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler), the IDF’s Number 1 counter-terrorism killing machine who has simply grown tired of his military murderous engagement. At a certain stage, he fakes his own death while in action in order to pursue his real dream: that of becoming a hairstylist in NYC.

The film was anything but praised by the critics. The Sun gave the film one star and wrote: “the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine isn’t exactly the obvious choice of topic for a comedy – which is perhaps why this film is about as funny as a suicide bombing.” “By the end,” wrote Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail, “I felt as though I had been carpet-bombed by comedy’s answer to Vladimir Putin. But, on second thought, Putin is funnier.”

These are pretty harsh words for critics to write about a film. However, unlike the devastated critic, who didn’t hold back from putting the film down, I regard the film as an important document and another step towards a comprehensive understanding of the Jewish world, Jewish identity, Jewish tribal operation and Jewish power. As much as ‘You Don’t Mess With The Zohan’ seems to be a sloppy infantile film, it is also a pretty interesting take on Jewish Diaspora identity, its vision of Israel and itself.

The Peace Seeking People

The plot of the film is rather simple, it has two main focal points. One is engaged with the exposure of the ‘vulnerable human being’ behind the Israeli military killing machine. Zohan, the Israeli counter-terrorism expert, once left to be himself, is transformed into a peace loving feigale (a derogatory Yiddish term for gay male) hairstylist. This line of thought is there to reassure us that Israeli crudeness and brutality is just a manifestation, deep inside they really are ‘softies’. This fits nicely into the ‘Sabra narrative’. Israeli natives tend to associate themselves with the Sabra cactus fruit; spikes on the outside but soft and sweet inside. Considering the fact that Adam Sandler, the main person behind this film, is a devoted Zionist fundraiser, the very intention of presenting the Israelis in such a light shouldn’t take us by surprise.

The other focal point proposes an optimistic possible reconciliation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As we follow the story, we come to realise that the Palestinian and Israeli communities in the film are set into a conflict by an American real estate tycoon. The film may try to suggest to the naïve viewer that it is actually American hard capitalism that sets Arabs and Jews onto unnecessary fire. This banal vision is rather popular amongst a limited number of Jewish Marxists and Jewish leftists that are scattered within the anti-war and the anti-imperialist movements. Apparently, such a reading of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that the crime that is committed in Palestine by the Jewish state in the name of the Jewish people may have nothing to do with the Jewish people at all. It is all down to ‘hard capitalism’, imperialism, colonialism, and so on. The Jews are actually nothing more than just innocent victims. Within such a banal reading, the Israelis who starve millions of Palestinians and drop bombs upon them from airplanes decorated with Jewish religious symbols are doing so because they are set to kill by some remote ideology named ‘American capitalism’. Within such a ludicrous reading of the conflict, Israel and its supportive Jewish lobbies are ‘victims’ rather than the protagonists of devastating genocidal policies. Again, considering the fact that Sandler is a Zionist fundraiser, such a lame intellectual intent shouldn’t take us by surprise. The fact that some Jewish so-called ‘leftist campaigners’ succumb to such a deceiving view is either pathetic or worrying, it is all matter of personal taste.

Unlike The Diaspora Jew

In the very early part of the film we meet Zohan during his military phase. At that promising stage, Zohan is no doubt an entertaining grotesque caricature of Israeli military macho. In between his deep obsession with humus and love of cheap 1970’s disco, Zohan manages to kill efficiently and mercilessly. Unlike the Disapora Jew who is ‘led like cattle to the slaughter’, Zohan is the embodiment of fierce masculine omnipotence. He leads others to the slaughter. Fear is beyond him. As he operates behind enemy lines, he mocks his clumsy Palestinian enemies and gives them a crash course in Zionism just before he smashes them to pieces

Zohan is literally unkillable. He stops bullets with his fingertips. He goes through walls and escapes rocket-propelled grenades by twisting his body, predicting the rocket path. With Zohan and his kind around, the Holocaust and Jewish suffering become a remote irrelevant historical chapter. All that obviously has very little to do with the Israeli reality. In the light of Zohan’s bravery, it is the new Jew, the incarnated Biblical Samson, who inflicts pain on others

As interesting as one commentator has suggested, for the first time in a Jewish American film, the Shoah is not mentioned even once throughout the film. As I myself mentioned on several occasions in my previous writings, Israeli historical epos cannot easily integrate the Holocaust into the Israeli heroic ‘self sufficient’ narrative. One cannot be both a victim and a macho at the same time unless operating in a schizophrenic mode. Within the emerging Zionist religion, the Jew – who dropped God and reformed himself as an alleged ‘authentic being’, learns to believe in himself. However, the melting pot between the Israeli and his Diaspora brother leads towards an integration of these two opposing poles of heroism and victimhood. Consequently, Israeli society is maturing into one of inevitable collective schizophrenia. The Israeli cannot decide anymore whether he is a victim or an oppressor. Within such a conflicting mode, Zohan comes about as a heroic character. He is a fighter, he believes in himself, he is aware of his powers and his almightiness. At least, this is the impression he gives in the first few minutes of the film. It won’t take long before we learn that even the Zohan is slightly confused.

But it goes further, Zohan is also pretty effective with the girls. Unlike the Diaspora urban Jew protagonist Larry David who is pretty pale and hopeless with the girls and in general, Zohan Dvir, the Sabra is a socio-erotic animal. He is the ultimate male super hero. The film starts with Zohan’s triumphant march on Tel Aviv’s beach. He is followed by the camera, panning over the gazes depicting the mass yearning of sexually aroused, well-tanned Israeli bikini-clad girls. It won’t take long before we learn that Zohan is also a well-endowed man. Not more than a few minutes into the film, Zohan is caught in his underwear, exposing what seems to be an overwhelming gigantic member. Indeed later we happen to learn that his substantial bump is actually due to pubic hair rather than real content of flesh and blood.

However, the march of masculinity doesn’t last long. Subsequently we learn that Zohan is far from being happy in his role as an omnipotent killing machine. He wants to live a different life. Once fulfilling his dream of becoming a hairstylist, a new identity is emerging, the Israeli caricatured macho disappears and a grotesque effeminate gay caricature takes its place.
The once hairy Judeo-Rambo is now a well-shaved, light headed, buttock-swinging, silky-smooth kind of boy.

In NYC, Zohan changes his name to Scrappy Smooth. Though his initial attempt in getting hired at an upscale hairstyle salon proved to be unsuccessful, he eventually lands in a struggling Palestinian salon run by a beautiful young woman (Emmanuelle Chriqui) in downtown Manhattan. The Palestinian salon is located in an area populated by Israeli electronics and clothes shops and some small Arab businesses. Needless to say, Sandler’s presentation of Israeli immigrants’ lowlife in NYC is far from being respectful. The Israeli electronics shopkeepers are shown as a bunch of dedicated swindlers who are set upon deceiving their naïve American customers.

In the Palestinian beauty salon Zohan is not allowed to do a thing but sweep the floor, and he does it for free. However, as time goes by he eventually becomes a hairstylist after gratifying a very mature lady with a satisfactory haircut and backroom sexual service. Not before too long Zohan’s reputation spreads among the elderly women of Manhattan. “Besides the sex, he gives a pretty good haircut,” confesses one. The Palestinian beauty salon becomes a smashing success and it’s all thanks to Zohan, one-time Israeli killing machine, but now an enthusiastic sex services provider.

Zohan’s assimilation within his new environment is far from being instant. As much as Zohan is quick to change his name and his own haircut, his accent and behavioural code keep him behind. Noticeably, it is his penis that makes the transformation significant. In his early career has a hairstylist, his male organ operates as an extension of his business career. Zohan gives each of his elderly customers a rather inclusive gigolo service. Though watching an elderly woman being turned on by a young man may as well be a subject for a comedy, in practice, Zohan operates as a male prostitute. The message that comes through is clear, in the eyes of the Israelis, the penis is instrumentalised and commoditised. However, once falling in love with his beautiful Palestinian boss, it eventually occurs to Zohan that his organ may react to feelings. Seemingly it takes almost the full length of the film before the omnipotent Sabra Zohan becomes a true Diaspora Jewish impotent ‘Larry David’.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Apparently all through the film, both the Arabs and the Israelis are under some severe pressure inflicted by Walbridge, an American real estate tycoon who wants to wipe the entire neighbourhood out and build a huge mall there instead.

Not before too long Walbridge hires the services of some ‘anti-Semite’ Islamophobic gang who are gladly committing themselves to jeopardising the fragile relationship within the Israeli-Palestinian community. Miraculously, towards the end of the movie, a cosmic enlightenment is embarking within the struggling community. The Israelis and the Palestinians reveal that it is Walbridge who sets them to fight each other in the name of ‘American capitalism’. Once they expose the plot, they end up fighting together against the American tycoon and his mercenaries. Not only do they fight, they even manage to win.

Zohan, the Israeli counter-terrorist and Phantom (John Turturro) the Islamic Jihad terrorist fight side by side against the anti-Semites.

As banal as it may sound, the tendency to recruit Palestinians to fight the Jewish Marxist wars (against capitalism) and Jewish tribal wars (against the ‘anti-Semites’) is symptomatic also to the Jewish Marxists within the Palestinian solidarity movement who insist that this is exactly what the Palestinian Solidarity campaign should engage with: as if Palestinians are short of battles to fight. Should it take us by surprise that Adam Sandler, a prime Zionist fundraiser and people who do their campaigning labelling themselves as Anti-Zionist Jews share the same agenda? Not at all. Once operating under a Jewish flag, the interests of the tribe come first. As much as we expect a Zionist to promote tribal interests, recruiting the Palestinians to serve Jewish tribal interests verges on the grotesque.

Bearing in mind that I have very little admiration for American capitalism or any other form of money-orientated culture, I would still argue that blaming capitalism for the crimes committed by the Jewish state is rather deceptive. The ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population (Nakba) in 1948 was actually perpetrated and committed by a devoted Jewish ‘leftist’ Zionist leadership that had barely anything to do with ‘hard American Capitalism’. The massacre in Kafar Kasem had nothing to do with hard capitalism either. The 1967 expansionist Israeli extravaganza had very little to do with America. As much as Zionist apologists and Marxist Jews want us to believe that America and colonialism are to be blamed, I would forcibly argue, that it is actually the other way around. American capitalism has become a Zionist vehicle. If this is not enough, American soldiers are fighting and dying in the Israeli wars. Currently it is Iraq but as we learn from the press the AJC is planning to extend the war to Iran.

This should not take us by surprise. As Marx pointed out already in 1843, America is the Jewish promised land, it is an haven for ruthless materialism and it is hardly surprising that Jews who were traditionally urban people (due to some historical circumstances) have managed to flourish within that culture and to settle within its elite. As much as America attracted waves of East European Jews in the late 19th century, it attracts Israeli youth, Zohan included. America is the Israeli dreamland, and NYC is Tel Aviv’s wettest dream. NYC is where a Jew can celebrate his symptoms. Whether it is in an Israeli Electronics Stor


or as a male prostitute gratifying grannies in a backroom of a small downtown salon.

The Racist Subtext

As much as Sandler insists upon presenting us with America as a place that lets people cross the divide and find a way towards peace, it is pretty shocking that he himself didn’t manage to recruit either Arabs or Palestinians. Clearly, not many Arabs would agree to perform in a Zionist propaganda film that present Palestinians as foolish, illiterate terrorist


and suggests that they engage in some goat shagging


But it goes much further, Sandler clearly differentiates between Zohan, the Ashkenazi Jew, commando hero, and the lowlife Israeli immigrant to America who ends up in an electronics shop. In the film Zohan speaks a uniquely invented dialect that is made of an amalgam of Yiddish, Hebrew and English. Sandler clearly associates the Zionist heroic epos with Ashkenazi culture while referring to the lowlife Israeli immigrant culture in the Arab Jewish culture. Sandler tries to emphasise the racial similarities between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In one dialogue a Palestinian complains, “everyone hates us,” the Israeli electronics shopkeeper answers, “yes, everybody hates us also, but just because they think that we are you.” What Sandler may have failed to realise is that in America Arab Jews and Palestinians can live together because they are sharing some fundamental cultural assets. They simply have a lot in common. Similarly, Peace will occur in the Middle East when Arab Jews realize that they have far more in common with their Palestinian brothers rather than with the Ashkenazi bloodthirsty aristocracy ala Peres, Rabin, Begin, Ben-Gurion, Olmert, Sharon, Netanyahu, Livni and so on.

A Last Word

“You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” is not an intellectual film, it doesn’t pretend to be. It is not a source of an historical truth either. The film is just an intense two-hour glimpse into a Jewish tribal mind. It may not tell us what the tribal Jew is, but it clearly throws light over the complex relationship between the tribal Jew and Israel. It suggests to us how the tribal Jew may see himself and want to be seen. It lets us peep into Sandler’s mind and suggests how he regards Israel, the Israelis and himself accordingly.

We can easily notice how much admiration Sandler holds towards the omnipotent Israelis yet we can detect how much he scorns the Israeli crudeness. It won’t take a genius to gather that Sandler, like many other Jews, is confused by Israel and the Israelis. May I suggest that he has good reason. As much as he seems to detest the Israeli electronics shops and the swindler culture associated with it, in the near future we will all see many more of them scattered in our Western capitals. Somehow, we all better get ready to mess with the Zohans.