The Jewish Right's movie madness

It's easier to worry about Hollywood threats than about threat of continuation of status quo.

munich 2 298 (photo credit: Universal Studios)
munich 2 298
(photo credit: Universal Studios)
There must be a word for it, although I don't know what it is. I'm trying to describe the phenomenon when people appear trapped in a different historical period than the present and react to events in an outdated context. The phrase "time warp" comes to mind. The thought struck me after reading about a campaign by what the Associated Press called "pro-Israel activists" to prevent the Palestinian film Paradise Now from winning an Oscar for best foreign-language film at Sunday's Academy Awards. The film did not win. Paradise Now is a film about two young Palestinians recruited by an Islamist terror organization to blow up a bus in Tel Aviv. The film depicts the whole process of becoming a suicide bomber and culminates in a scene where one of the young men decides he can't go through with the suicide attack, while the other is on the bus about to decide if he will go ahead with his act of mass murder.
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It's a terrifying scene, one that brings home the absolute horror of killing innocent civilians. I found it almost unwatchable, as if I was on the bus myself. THE RAP on the film is that it humanizes the suicide bombers by showing the circumstances that led them to their mission of murder. And that the film does. But the fact is that they are human. And they are motivated by all kinds of human (although not humane) considerations from the political, to the religious, to the merely adolescent. The film does not endorse their decision to kill innocents. In fact, its most sympathetic character, a Palestinian woman, argues against violence. But the content of the film seems to matter very little to the people lobbying against it, just as other (or the same) activists railed against Munich without much regard for what the film itself actually says. That film in no way whitewashes the Olympic massacre. In fact, director Steven Spielberg is relentless about reminding the viewer of the horrors that occurred in the Olympic Village. Every time you feel a twinge of doubt about Israel's relentlessness in tracking down the killers, Spielberg flashes back to the original scene of murder. Not for a minute is the viewer allowed to forget what happened to the Israeli athletes. Nevertheless, the film has aroused a storm of controversy, primarily because it allows one Palestinian (not one of the Olympic terrorists) to explain why the loss of Arab Palestine produces such excruciating pain for him. What's wrong with that? There have been hundreds of films giving voice to the Israeli or Jewish view. A couple of minutes in one film should be no big deal. AND THIS is where I get back to the issue of time warp. It is simply impossible for me to grasp how people seriously concerned about Israel could claim to be worried about which foreign language film wins an Oscar. But those people are out there. The Washington Post's always hyperbolic Charles Krauthammer publishes a column called "Oscars for Osama." In it he fulminates about Paradise Now and Munich but adds George Clooney's Syriana, which he says is "pathological" and "could have been scripted by Osama Bin Laden." He also calls Clooney "self-loathing" This mindless hysteria is truly offensive. It would be one thing if this was 1942 and Jews were powerless in the face of the Nazis. But this is an entirely different world. A Jewish state exists, and it is one of the strongest military powers in the world. According to most outside experts Israel possesses 200 nuclear weapons, enough to guarantee its security many times over. In addition to that, and more relevantly, it has an army and air force that is the envy of the world and unrivalled in the Middle East. It should be obvious that Israel is not threatened by the Motion Picture Academy. Even if the actors portraying the suicide bombers had walked off with dual "Best Actor" Oscars, Israel would have survived. SO WHY the movie madness? I think it's because it's considerably easier to worry about an imaginary Hollywood threat to Israel than about the real threat posed by continuation of the status quo. Of course, partisans of the status quo are on a roll lately. Few outside the more extreme corners of the Muslim world are as happy about the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections as the "status-quoniks." These are the folks who pretend to mourn the defeat of Palestinian moderates by Hamas when, before the January 25 election, they were insisting that Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement were not moderates at all. They admit they do not trust any Palestinians and do not believe Israel should negotiate with them. They think Oslo was a disaster for Israel, despite the fact that it produced the three safest years in Israel's history (while Oslo's collapse resulted in the three bloodiest). They believe Israel should hold on to the West Bank forever, demographic and security problems be damned. For them the status quo is fine, thank you very much. And that is why we are hearing about strong efforts in Washington to make sure that neither Israel nor the United States ever deals with a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, no matter what its behavior. IN LAST week's Forward Ori Nir describes these efforts to achieve an ironclad prohibition on any Israeli-PA dealings and adds a stunning postscript. Nir writes that, in private, "several organizational leaders fretted that even Israel will reverse its position and temper its stance toward the militant Islamic group. That might leave the American Jewish advocacy groups alone in their anti-terrorist purism and force them to reverse a stance that they now present as a moral absolute." In other words, these leaders worry that their stance against dealing with Hamas could be undermined by the Israeli government. Of all the nerve! Of course, those "organizational leaders" are in the US, while Israeli officials have to live with the consequences of shutting off options. That is why Israelis are more likely to pursue a flexible approach than some of their friends here. Sitting in Washington or New York, the current "calm" may be of little personal consequence now that Hamas is in power. But for the mother in Jerusalem who, during four years of intifada, lived in terror until the kids got home from school, preserving the cease-fire is the most important thing in the world. And, if she is typical of most Israelis, she is considerably more open to the idea of dealing with a Hamas that commits itself to nonviolence than some of Israel's supporters here. On the other hand, she is probably indifferent to the Academy Awards. The writer is the director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum.