What ‘World War Z’ says about Israel

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (JTA) — “World War Z” gives us the basics of a summer blockbuster — a star actor worth looking at (Brad Pitt) and a far-fetched action-packed plot (hero races to stop virus that is turning all of humanity into zombies).

So can’t we all just buy some popcorn, suspend our disbelief and enjoy the show?


Well, no. The movie features another equally well-known newsmaker, if in this case less publicized: Israel.

The zombie plague is spreading like wildfire, and Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, a former U.N. official turned stay-at-home dad, learns that only two countries have been able to successfully stave off infection.

One is North Korea, where in a 24-hour period, the government has removed the teeth of its citizens, making it impossible for the disease to spread. Then there’s Israel, which has built a wall in Jerusalem between the undead and the uninfected.

In the movie we don’t see Jerusalem for very long. As zombies storm the city’s streets, flights of people hoping for refuge are landing in a place founded by people who not so long ago were refused refuge by most of the world.

Pitt, off to solve the next piece of the puzzle, hops on one of these planes (run by Belarus Airlines), with his new pandemic-fighting partner, a tough female Israeli soldier played by Danielle Kertesz.

But that’s all the blogosphere needed to start buzzing for weeks about the deeper meaning of the Israel-related plot line and the message that it sends about Israel and its policies.

Some see the cinematic version as a pro-Israel statement, justifying the existence of a wall in the real-life, non-zombie-ridden West Bank — the wall is extreme, but it keeps people safe.

Interestingly, in the film the wall actually brings Israelis and Palestinians together. In apocalyptic Jerusalem, background is irrelevant. As long as you’re not a monster with an appetite for humans, you’re cool.

Pitt is there to find out how Israel could have possibly built a structure of that magnitude so quickly — not to mention a full week before the pandemic hit in full force.

From a member of the Mossad intelligence agency he learns that the tip came from an intercepted email mentioning zombies. It seemed crazy, but so had the prospect of the Holocaust, the Munich massacre and the Yom Kippur War. Israel has committed to imagining the unimaginable — and preparing for it.

Ultimately, though, the experiment in segregation doesn’t work. In a twist, cross-cultural harmony is the wall’s downfall. Celebrating their survival, everyone joins together in song.

Unfortunately, the joyous masses don’t realize that noise arouses the zombies. Oops. Peace, one might deduce, is untenable — no matter how much people are willing to move past their differences.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik offered up a more optimistic, albeit still daunting, takeaway.

“It may well be that there’s no single message intended by the film,” he wrote. “Still, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and, for that matter, conflict in general — ‘World War Z” offers what seems like at least one clear takeaway. The most aggressive policy won’t be useful in the face of a serious threat. A long-term solution probably involves even the most creative form of reactive thinking — it requires a willingness to contemplate the root cause.”

Try telling that to the folks at Al Jazeera, who compiled a roundup of online commentators and posters who have panned the film as pro-Israel propaganda.

And it’s not just Israel bashers who think it. As Al Jazeera noted, Jeffrey Goldberg admiringly tweeted, ” ‘World War Z’ is the most pro-Israel movie ever made. Or at the very least the most pro-Israel zombie movie ever made.” At the same time, he added, “With Israel’s highly lauded defense reputation, the wall breach surprised me.”

Complicating any attempt to discern a concrete message were the deviations from the 2006 novel on which it is based. In “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), it is not zombies who ruin everything but haredi Orthodox Jews, who rebel after the government decides to pull back to the pre-1967 borders and welcome in Jews and Palestinians. That said, in the book Israel’s success does hold up.

Back to the film. Together Pitt and his Israeli friend battle zombies and find the answers that will finally help to pretty much save the day. The movie closes with a voiceover from the lead actor, reminding us that we should always “be prepared for anything” — yeah, like the Internet peanut gallery’s ability to turn anything into an Israel debate.

Hey, Hollywood, next time could you just save us all the headache and set the Middle East plot line in Cairo or Istanbul?