Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michal Weits
Screenwriters: Michal Weits, Marie-Josée Cardinal
Cast: Michal Weits, Gidi Weitz, Nir Weitz, Nitan Weitz, Rami Weits, Stav Weitz, Yehiam Weitz. Voice of Dror Keren.
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/21
Opens: November 4, 2021
Some time after he was born in 110 B.C.E. Hillel, my Hebrew namesake, said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” This explains, in large part, the need for Jews in various dangerous parts of the world to commit to the establishment of a Jewish state, one that would be free from persecution by groups who would do so whenever the nationalist bug hit them. If Jews could be in the majority of their own state, they could not be oppressed by others who would greatly outnumber them. Fine, so far. But Hillel also said “If I am for myself only, what am I?” Therein lies the controversy that oversees the story of Israel from before its birth in 1948 through 1967.
According to some of the younger generation of director Michal Weits’ family, when Jews were at work becoming the majority of their Middle East land, they oppressed the diminishing minority, the Arabs. Using funds raised in the Diaspora, the Jewish National Fund, or JTF, collected money used to buy the land of Arab settlers who were not, as the myth would have it, lazy. They were at work on the land, the same as the Jews, but JTF money sent to Israel bought land from its rich owners—absentee landlords who lived in capitals of other Middle Eastern countries. The Arabs may not have even known the identities or locations of their absentee landlords, yet they were told to clear out by the new Jewish owners. Evicted like the folks in America, when particularly large-scale evictions took place. What happened, to them, where they went to live, who knows? We know only that when masses of Arabs in Palestine fled or were forced out during the eight-month independence war, they wound up in refugee camps in Jordan, miserable places, “shitholes” as a former U.S. president would say.
The title “Blue Box” is based on the slotted receptacles, called in Yiddish “pushke,” with which I went around in my Borough Park neighborhood, holding out the box and pleading “Please help the Jewish National Fund.” Borough Park in Brooklyn during the 1940’s was maybe 80% Jewish and people dropped their quarters, receiving symbolic flowers from me for their lapels. I hope the money wound up where it was supposed to go and not into the pockets of corrupt people like Russell Robinson chief executive officer of JNF-USA and his chief financial officer, Mitchel Rosenzweig. Anyway, enough went where it was supposed to go. As a result, Jews acquired 361 square miles of land with another 310 square miles acquired by other Jewish organizations and individuals.
What stands out in this film, which offers archival film of Arabs working the land before being ejected and meetings of the various Zionist Congresses in Europe, is that it makes the international into the personal. Director Michal Weits treats us to information not widely known about the role of her great-grandfather Yosef Weitz, who was like the right-hand man of Israeli’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. She motivates discussions from Weitz’s descendants about the ethics of great-grandad, the younger members being to the left of the old-timers, one of whom said to the director, “You were not there in 1948 or you would not be critical of the great Yosef.” Really? True, Jews went through hell during the War of Independence, but the people they ejected had lived on the Palestinian land for generations were mostly absent from the Arab Liberation Army. They were too busy fleeing from the war to take up arms like their brethren in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Fair enough. It’s easy to sit in your Fred Friar Handicraft armchair, smoking a big Cohiba Havana cigar and nursing a 23-year-old Pappy Vanwinkle bourbon, and spouting leftist viewpoints when you have no more than an intellectual concept of what the Jews had to go through.
At least Weitz, who goes along with the plan, believed that the ejected Palestinians should be paid. Weitz became frustrated when those above him said, “The problem will go away on its own.” If you believe that, then you trust the Taliban in Afghanistan will join NATO and hire Thomas Jefferson’s own great-great-grandchildren to draw up a constitution.
The film does not take us forward, really, from 1967 when the Israeli government went further by encouraging Jews to settle in the Palestinian West Bank, which is now land occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces. The situation at present has been covered extensively by the press and also by films like Shimon Dotan’s 2016 doc “The Settlers.” Anyone alive today who follows international politics should be aware of the tense situations resulting from the occupation. However, “Blue Box” stands out in going farther back in history to focus on the politics of the heretofore little-known Yosef Weitz. The director proves herself an interviewer on the level of a Barbara Walters.
82 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+