Sat­i­riz­ing Zion­ism in the Jewish Di­as­pora

Speak­ing to Aviva Zim­mer­man, cre­ator of Avi does the holy land

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Coco Zhou The Mcgill Daily This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity. Check out Avi Does the Holy Land at www.avi­does­the­holy­

Con­tent warn­ing: men­tion of Zion­ism

Episode six of Avi Does the Holy Land, ti­tled “Self-hat­ing Jews,” be­gins with a fac­tu­ally du­bi­ous claim. “As a Jew, you need to sup­port Is­rael,” de­clares Avi. “That’s like, what it says in the Bible.” This is a mild state­ment com­pared to most other things she says. In a dis­cus­sion on pinkwash­ing with Pales­tinian ac­tivist Rami You­nis, Avi pro­poses that Pales­tini­ans would be treated bet­ter “if they all be­came gay” be­fore drap­ing a big Pride flag over You­nis.

Avi is not a real per­son. The “Cana­dian Jewess” and video blog­ger who has fallen in love with Is­rael af­ter a Birthright trip, who twirls in a bikini made out of an Is­raeli flag, is a char­ac­ter cre­ated by Aviva Zim­mer­man. Her Youtube se­ries pokes fun at the un­crit­i­cal cel­e­bra­tion of Is­rael among Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and aims to un­set­tle the tra­di­tional Zion­ist nar­ra­tive in North Amer­ica.

Avi Does the Holy Land is cur­rently in pro­duc­tion for a sec­ond sea­son. The Daily spoke to Zim­mer­man about the ideas be­hind the project, the po­lit­i­cal po­ten­tial of satire, and the dif­fi­cul­ties of re­ject­ing Zion­ism as a Di­as­poric Jewish per­son.

The Mcgill Daily (MD): Whose idea was it to start this project? What are your goals, and what brings your team to­gether?

Aviva Zim­mer­man (AZ): The project be­gan as the brain­child of my­self and one of my best friends – Danielle An­gel, a Turk­ish-is­raeli – as a way of lam­poon­ing all of the day-to- day ab­sur­di­ties we saw as for­eign­ers who moved to Is­rael. With time, it took on more of a po­lit­i­cal edge and we be­gan to nar­row our fo­cus to make the show a di­rect cri­tique of Is­raeli pol­i­tics [...] The core driver be­hind the project [has] been to ad­dress the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael, and to cre­ate a space for Jews in the Di­as­pora to wres­tle with their opin­ions on Is­rael. Many Jews in the Di­as­pora are raised to main­tain un­wa­ver­ing sup­port of Is­rael, re­gard­less of Is­rael’s ac­tual poli­cies on the ground. This show aims to ques­tion that un­wa­ver­ing sup­port, and show peo­ple, es­pe­cially North Amer­i­can Jews, what is go­ing on in Is­rael in their name.

MD: What do you think makes Avi an ef­fec­tive char­ac­ter?

AZ: Avi is based on a car­i­ca­ture of a Jew that over-zeal­ously sup­ports Is­rael. Ev­ery­one knows an “Avi.” Es­pe­cially now with ex­trem­ism of all kinds spread­ing through- out the globe, the au­di­ence rec­og­nizes her as a car­i­ca­ture of that phe­nom­e­non [...] We were tired of the dry and stale ways in which [the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion] has tra­di­tion­ally been por­trayed and wanted to change things up. The mock­u­men­tary/satir­i­cal for­mat is a com­men­tary on the ab­sur­dity of what’s go­ing on – that we’re try­ing to re­main ob­jec­tive and un­moved by such in­cred­i­ble suf­fer­ing and ab­surd pol­i­tics [...] The use of hu­mour al­lows you to get in with peo­ple who would oth­er­wise be turned off by your mes­sage. Peo­ple can only be hit over the head so many times by a given mes­sage.

MD: The show has tack­led a va­ri­ety of hu­man rights in­jus­tices in Is­rael, from pinkwash­ing to the treat­ment of African refugees. How might the Di­as­pora re­late to these is­sues?

AZ: The sub­ject of Is­rael’s in­ter­nal is­sues is often brushed over by the de­sire to paint the con­ver­sa­tion in black and white: you are ei­ther for Is­rael or against Is­rael. When crit­i­cism of Is­raeli in­ter­nal pol­icy arises, it is often brushed aside as “all democ­ra­cies have flaws” and “why not crit­i­cize an­other coun­try do­ing the same thing?” These are just dif­fer­ent at­tempts to sti­fle con­ver­sa­tion and dele­git­imize crit­i­cism of Is­raeli pol­icy. Main­stream or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the ones that or­ga­nize Birthright trips, often brush over the “bad” parts of Is­rael or the parts they don’t want peo­ple to see. That is where we come in. Our se­ries is an at­tempt to sat­i­rize these ef­forts to sweep un­der the rug the very prob­lem­atic [...] poli­cies that we feel are push­ing Is­rael closer and closer to ex­trem­ism.

MD: How have North Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­ni­ties re­acted?

AZ: The re­sponse has been mixed. Many young Jews have reached out say­ing, “thank you so much for mak­ing me laugh, and for mak­ing me feel okay for crit­i­ciz­ing Is­raeli pol­icy.” But we have also re­ceived a lot of neg­a­tive feed­back, mostly from right-wing groups who do not ap­pre­ci­ate our hu­mour or our mes­sage.

MD: Do you think so­cial me­dia plays a role in the show’s re­cep­tion?

AZ: When the show first dropped, the whole crew was watch­ing the on­line com­ments roll in [...] Af­ter work­ing for so long on the show, there was an im­me­di­ate sat­is­fac­tion to read­ing the com­ments, es­pe­cially the peo­ple who were hate-watch­ing it. Those are still my favourite. Of course, we’re not the only ones see­ing those com­ments. So­cial me­dia al­lows our fol­low­ers to in­ter­act with one an­other and for us to jump in and join the con­ver­sa­tion, too. It makes for a show that’s liv­ing and breath­ing and con­stantly chang­ing, which is more of the model we’re af­ter: an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence that goes both ways, be­tween fans and cre­ators.

MD: Does viewer in­put af­fect your pro­duc­tion process?

AZ: We’ve def­i­nitely been lis­ten­ing to our view­ers when it comes to plan­ning new episodes, shorts and one-offs. [We’re] es­pe­cially at­tuned to feed­back from the peo­ple who are most pissed off by the show’s con­tent. When we re­ally get un­der some­one’s skin, then we see how we can push even fur­ther in those di­rec­tions.

MD: What ad­vice can you give to Di­as­poric Jewish peo­ple who may have doubts about sup­port­ing Is­rael?

AZ: I fully un­der­stand the quag­mire that many young Jews of the Di­as­pora face. Often, they grow up in com­mu­ni­ties that of­fer un­wa­ver­ing sup­port [for Is­rael], and most main­stream Jewish ed­u­ca­tion presents a to­tally one-sided ap­proach to the [oc­cu­pa­tion] with­out pre­sent­ing any other side [...] For me, I felt I was raised with a def­i­nite right ver­sus wrong. Is­rael was al­ways right. And any­one who doesn’t think that way has a prob­lem [...] So I was raised a staunch sup­porter of Is­rael.

When I got to univer­sity in Toronto, I was shocked to first learn of so much anti-is­rael vit­riol out there in the world, and I was to­tally un­equipped to deal with it. At that point, though I was in­ter­ested in learn­ing [...] the Pales­tinian nar­ra­tive, I def­i­nitely did not feel wel­come in [rel­e­vant] stu­dent groups on cam­pus. Their rhetoric fright­ened me, and I didn’t have the tools to un­der­stand it at that time. But then when I went to Hil­lel, their right-wing rhetoric to­tally iso­lated me as well. So in univer­sity, I had no place to con­nect with [...] It took a few more years, and ac­tual trips to Is­rael to ‘see’ the other side and to be­gin to form an opin­ion.

Now I think the arena has changed, and there are lots of Jewish groups emerg­ing that are crit­i­cal of Is­rael, or at least, in­vite the space for Jews to be crit­i­cal (Jstreet U, If Not Now, Jewish Voices for Peace, Cen­tre for Non-jewish Vi­o­lence, All that’s Left, Open Hil­lel). So I hope there is more space for young Jews to still be con­nected to a com­mu­nity [while voic­ing] their crit­i­cism of Is­rael.

MD: What’s next for Avi?

AZ: We’re hard at work on our sec­ond sea­son, which we’re aim­ing to re­lease around the 50th an­niver­sary of the oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank [...] We are re­ally ex­cited to tackle Is­rael’s PR ma­chine, Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank, and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment at­tempts to sup­press crit­i­cism, such as the re­cent travel ban on visi­tors who sup­port of [the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment]. We are also try­ing to find a way to bring the show to a Cana­dian au­di­ence, and are de­vel­op­ing a new project in that vein.

“[We want] to ad­dress the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael, and to cre­ate a space for Jews in the Di­as­pora to wres­tle with their opin­ions on Is­rael.” —Aviva Zim­mer­man Cre­ator and pro­ducer of Avi Does the Holy Land “Main­stream Jewish ed­u­ca­tion presents a to­tally one-sided ap­proach to the [oc­cu­pa­tion].” —Aviva Zim­mer­man

Vaish­navi Kapil | The Mcgill Daily

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