In 1979 British Comedy group ‘Monty Python’ released the movie ‘Life of Brian’ about a fictitious character who was born one stable down (and on the same night as) Jesus. Over the next 30 years Brian leads an unremarkable life – until he meets a young rebel named Judith. In an effort to impress Judith, Brian joins one of the many movements devoted to independence from the Romans and ends up being (accidentally) revered as a Messianic figure.
The movie is a religious satire, a social commentary and a parody of the many messianic claimants who existed during that period of Jewish history – and, as expected, it was a subject of huge controversy. Initial financier EMI Films withdrew funding just days before production was scheduled to commence – although this was replaced by finance through a new company, HandMade Films, set up by Beatle George Harrison. The movie was the subject of protests from several religious groups and was either banned or imposed with an X (18 years) certificate by 39 UK local authorities. It was completely banned in Ireland and Norway which led to posters in Sweden reading, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”
Despite this attention (or perhaps, because of it) the film was a box office success. It was the fourth- highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom in 1979, and the highest grossing British film in the US that year.
40 years on, ‘Life of Brian’ is probably less controversial than it once was – perhaps as a reflection of how much more secular society has become and how much more blatant attacks on religious belief are. For me, the movie has always been something of a guilty pleasure. I can recite entire sections of it, word for word, and am still of the view that, even 40 years on, it contains material which incisively exposes aspects of the social condition.
One such scene takes place when Brian first meets representatives of rebel group ‘the Peoples Front of Judea’. Although the aim of this group is the overthrow of Roman authority – they’re actually more focussed on their disdain for other rebel groups with similar sounding names – for example, the Popular Front of Judea who they refer to as ‘splitters’.
This scene is funny because it’s an accurate insight into how groups – even groups with what should be common aims – operate today. And it’s a sobering reminder of how well-meaning organisations can lose sight of who the real enemy is by focusing on patch protection and petty politics.
Up until relatively recently it could be said that it was the way in which groups which had been established to support Israel and the Jewish people had operated, even here in New Zealand. – but that has definitely changed in recent years.
Jewish, Christian and secular groups such as the Israel Institute, the Zionist Federation, Friends of Israel, Christians for Israel, Celebrate Messiah, Christian Friends of Israel, the Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation and others now meet and work together toward the achievement of common goals.
But there’s still more work to do. Given the alarming increase in attacks (both figurative and real) against Israel, and the steep rise in incidents of antisemitism around the world, it’s more important than ever that we work together to present a united front and engage in cooperative strategies.
These may include joint events, joint advertising and joint media – as well as combined advocacy on matters where our views are aligned.
As organisations which support Israel we are all effective – but there’s never been a more urgent time to combine our energies and focus our goals. The Israel Institute is committed to this and one of our objectives in 2020 is to support and cooperate with those who share our vision.
By the way – if you’re a subscriber to this newsletter we’ll have some exciting news for you very soon. Watch this space…..