THE RABBIS' INTIFADA tells the story of a Jewish woman who follows four Orthodox rabbis across the globe to find out why they support Palestinian liberation when most other rabbis won’t. Founded in Jerusalem 80 years ago, Neturei Karta objects to Israeli violence and Jewish statehood.
My name is Heather Tenzer and I'm an American Jewish filmmaker and the director of THE RABBIS' INTIFADA. I first met the Orthodox rabbis of Neturei Karta as a teenager. I was waving the Israeli flag, marching with my yeshiva (Jewish religious school) in the Israel Parade in New York City. “Down with Israel! Free Palestine!” the rabbis chanted from the sidelines. My teachers instructed me to ignore them, but I was perplexed – and fascinated. Why would Jews demonstrate against Israel?
Neturei Karta are Yiddish-speaking, socially conservative rabbis speaking out in support of Palestinian liberation. They oppose Jewish nationalism and the State of Israel. But why at a time when most American rabbis unconditionally support Israel are these rabbis engaged in an intifada (Arabic, meaning ‘uprising’) against Israel?
THE RABBIS' INTIFADA is a documentary that tells the story of my journey into the Neturei Karta community, which is usually closed to outside observers and not typically “American.” There, I encounter a Judaism that most yeshivas don't teach.
And in Gaza, I witness a connection between deeply religious Jews and Muslims that eludes other American supporters of Palestinian resistance. The film documents my quest to understand what motivates the rabbis’ resistance. I attempt to unravel the mystery of their activism, and their religious commitment to Palestinian freedom – a story I never learned in my yeshiva.
In THE RABBIS' INTIFADA, I follow four Neturei Karta rabbis inside their Jerusalem and New York communities, and on a journey through the Middle East. Through the lens of their diverse, intergenerational voices, the rabbis share compelling stories, offering a nuanced narrative about their history. Part investigative journalism and part memoir, THE RABBIS' INTIFADA is a provocative documentary about Orthodox rabbis who condemn Israeli militarism and support Palestinian rights.
It also documents Palestinian communities in Gaza, trapped with scarce resources under intense Israeli control, as they consider Neturei Karta’s offer of friendship.
Neturei Karta rabbis are condemned as ‘traitors’ by mainstream Jewish institutions. In their own voices, these courageous activists speak out in support of Palestinian human rights. The elders recall the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and Neturei Karta’s resistance at that time.
For Neturei Karta, whose moral compass is the Torah, Israel’s 70-year campaign of ethnic violence against Palestinians is the antithesis of Jewish tradition. “The genocide against the Palestinian people is a crime against humanity,” says Neturei Karta Rabbi Meir Hirsch of Jerusalem.
Alternating between funny, moving, and at times suspenseful, THE RABBIS' INTIFADA raises awareness about a censored topic and a marginalized people.