Chapter 8 Israel through the Viewfinder: Claude Lanzmann and Susan Sontag Film the Jewish State

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
Rocco Giansante
Search for other papers by Rocco Giansante in
Current site
Google Scholar

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



For Benedict Anderson, the nation is a social construction, an imagined community. And this is even more in the case of the foreigner, who carries an image of the country he is visiting that is imagined. In 1970, Roland Barthes published L’Empire des signes (The Empire of Signs), where he recounts Japan through a collection of “a certain number of features” that compose “a system,” an image that the foreigner (the gai-jin) has of the “Land of the Rising Sun.” This “imagined” image, which may be formed before even visiting a place, seldom reflects the reality on the ground. In the case of Israel, the image that diaspora Jews have of it is mostly a mental construct that reveals more about themselves and their aspirations than about Israel itself. In 1973, Claude Lanzmann traveled to Israel to film the country and to answer the question: Why Israel? Lanzmann finds the legitimacy of Israel in the stories of the people whom he talks with—these stories create Lanzmann’s imaged Israel: the Holocaust, the kibbutz, the Mizrachi aliyah, the Ultra-Orthodox, the settlers in Hebron, the memory of the Spartacus League in Germany … all these fragments of life, edited together, compose the Israel of Lanzmann, which coincides with the “reappropriation of violence” by the Jews. The reality of the Yom Kippur War, which broke out soon after the completion of the film, problematized the issue of violence for the young state. Following the war, Susan Sontag, another diasporic intellectual, arrived in Israel to construct her own image of the country. The Israel of Promised Lands is still shaking from the tragedy of the war: the filmed sequences of traumatized soldiers undergoing treatment or of the burned military vehicles abandoned in the middle of the desert reflect on the high costs of the Zionist project, signaling what would become a shift in the discourse about Israel taking place in the American Jewish community. From the post-Holocaust image generated by the survivor Lanzmann to the traumatized image of Sontag up to today’s representations, Israel stands as a mirror for the diaspora with which it can see itself.

  • Collapse
  • Expand


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 151 151 10
Full Text Views 1 1 0
PDF Views & Downloads 10 10 0