Another Tack: Movie musings

It’s as if Israeli filmmakers had paid heed to the admonitions arrogantly issued by Joseph Kennedy to Jewish movie moguls.

Joseph Kennedy 370 (photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
Joseph Kennedy 370
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
It’s not every day that news broadcasts open with a lament for what did not actually happen. But this anomaly is occasionally recurrent in our little insular setting. Periodically at this time of year the top item on our news purveyors’ agenda is likely to be what isn’t new: yet again no Israeli entry was awarded the coveted Oscar.
It’s as if the whole international community was holding its breath for some obscure Israeli documentary or film short to get the ultimate nod. All else in Tinseltown’s annual pageant is marginal.
And so Monday morning’s news announcers mournfully informed us that there would be no Oscar for Israel this year. Neither Israeli nominee for best documentary – 5 Broken Cameras or The Gatekeepers – won. That, of course, afforded commentators their opportunity to ruminate and spew such time-tried clichés as “what a disappointment,” “it hurts” and “it’s a blow to our national pride.”
It’s here that a sanity check is called for.
Is our national pride boosted by films that malign us? Is this what Israeli national pride has been reduced to – the desire to see our face ignominiously slapped before the entire sneering world? Are we pained because another Israel-bashing project didn’t get the glory that our left wing eagerly sought (so as to rub our collective nose in it)? Seriously?
Some of us backward types actually heaved a huge sigh of relief that both Israeli contenders lost. It was sweet that the Oscar for best documentary went to the British/Swedish Searching for Sugar Man.
For decades no film that tells our story and presents our case had come out of this country. Somewhere along the line, local producers must have figured out that their only way to rake in profits and score points overseas – especially in Europe, which despite all pretenses to the contrary, still hasn’t shaken off its congenital Jew-revulsion – is to portray the Jewish state as villainous.
So after all the accolades expectedly showered in Europe on these latest made-in-Israel defamatory offerings, the only solace left us here is to revel in the fact that the Oscar eluded them.
Their central thematic core is every bit as predictable, cravenly conformist and run-of-the- mill as nearly all Israeli flicks of past decades. Local filmmakers uniformly revel in picturing Israelis as jaded, essentially unpleasant (if not altogether repulsive), justifiably apprehensive, rightfully apologetic, malaise-ridden, terminally devoid of vitality, corroded within and/or wretchedly racked by self–reproach.
The Arab is revealed as the antithesis to the inherently disagreeable, fatigued, befuddled, farcical, foolish and/or pathetic Israeli. Arabs are dedicated patriots, confident in their cause, outspoken in their righteous indignation, vindicated in their umbrage, noble, proud, tough, young, vigorous and deserving of victory.
Some occasional counterfeit cardboard dichotomies are tolerable – freedom of expression and all that rot. However, when simplistic falsehoods become the single premise, then the overbearing presence of pressure by manipulative group-think must at least be suspected. The utter lack of deviation from this one homogeneous portraiture style testifies to the imposition of ideological diktats – obviously in the name of democracy and artistic freewill.
Misgivings are further intensified when we realize how many of these one-dimensional productions are subsidized by the Education Ministry’s Israel Film Fund. Portions of our hard-earned incomes go – as taxes collected from you and me – to underwrite either outright vilification of the Jewish state or, at best, unsympathetic depictions of a bumbling imbecilic entity.
No government dares reduce officialdom’s largess to Israel’s self-appointed creative emissaries, who blithely batter their country’s image at any available film festival abroad. Hand-in-hand with omnipotent media cliques, our artistes vehemently orchestrate intimidating reputation-trashing onslaughts which no higher-up or administration in recent memory could overcome.
And so – willing or not – we bankroll them and, at our expense, they relish in thumbing their avant-garde noses at the “benighted” aggregate of ordinary Israelis who are denied other homegrown cinematic fare, certainly anything Zionist. Guy Davidi, co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, has gone so far as to recommend – openly, out loud and brashly before the microphones – that an international boycott be declared against Israel.
Since nothing pro-Israeli can win applause at Cannes or Berlin, the preferences of overseas nabobs must be pandered to in our filmmakers’ quest for fame and fortune. Thus, in order to bask in the limelight of enlightened foreign approval, Israelis enhance the fraudulent Arab narrative. Pleasing the enemy is the one surefire way to make it in Israeli showbiz.
In their own twisted way it’s as if today’s Israeli filmmakers had paid heed to the admonitions arrogantly issued by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. to the Jewish movie moguls he assembled before him in 1940.
The multi-billionaire dynasty founder and father of the future president, was himself a movie tycoon (co-founder of RKO, among other conquests). He never concealed his contempt for the ground-breaking immigrant and first-generation Jews who had invented Hollywood and created the movie industry from its humble beginnings as the nickelodeon novelty. He referred to them mockingly as “pants pressers” and referred to himself as their “American” antithesis in the entertainment business.
Kennedy addressed the Jewish studio heads soon after his resignation (at president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unambiguous insistence) from his post as US ambassador to London. His two-and-a-half years at Grosvenor Square should have tipped off his California audience to what was in store.
Kennedy’s 1938 appointment to the Court of St. James began shortly before the Anschluss (the merger of Germany and Austria) and while Hitler hoarsely demanded Czech territory. Rather than perceive Hitler as someone who must be stopped, Kennedy regarded as him as someone who must be appeased. And so the American ambassador venerated Neville Chamberlain and despised Winston Churchill. He never recanted – not even postwar.
From the outset, Kennedy conducted friendly talks – though lacking State Department authorization – with Hitler’s ambassador, Herbert von Dirksen. As a result, von Dirksen opined to his Third Reich bosses that Kennedy was “Germany’s best friend” in London.
After Kristallnacht, Kennedy’s eldest son, Joe Jr. noted in his diary that his father “is alarmed that the country should get so worried up by the treatment of Jews.” Joe, who would ironically be killed in a 1944 combat accident, was a devoted disciple of his father’s anti-Jewish and pro-appeasement sentiments.
The father sent his son to visit Nazi Germany in 1934, when the Jews were already subjected to merciless persecution. Joe Jr. wrote his dad extolling Hitler’s various “accomplishments,” including the policy of sterilization, which the Kennedy heir apparent lauded as “a great thing.” Exuding liberality, he elucidated: “I don’t know how the Church feels about it, but it will do away with many of the disgusting specimens of men who inhabit this earth.”
He expressed gratification that Hitler had “things well under control. The only danger would be if something happened to Hitler.” Joe Jr. described Hitler as “building a spirit in his men that could be envied in any country” and as having merely exploited the prevalent “well founded” dislike of the Jews.
The father was delighted and replied to Joe Jr. that his “conclusions are very sound.”
A head-on collision with Roosevelt became inevitable. No sooner was the blitz unleashed on Britain then ambassador Kennedy insolently asserted that the Brits were losers and that “Hitler will be in Buckingham Palace in two weeks.” The king himself complained to Roosevelt.
But Kennedy could not be reined in. He told the press: “As far as the US goes, we ought to mind our own business.”
Joe Sr. remained convinced that a nefarious Jewish cabal was in the works to dissuade Roosevelt from making nice to Hitler and facilitating ongoing trade with the Nazis. Hence, when Roosevelt called for his resignation in 1940 (after Kennedy publicly proclaimed that “Democracy is finished in England”), the disgraced ambassador knew whom to blame – the Jews.
Convinced that the Jews are warmongers who aim to drag America into battle needlessly, he took it upon himself, right after his return to the US, to sternly warn them not to harm relations with Germany, lest they be blamed for any fighting which would erupt.
And so, delivering a speech on the “European Situation,” he cautioned Jewish studio executives: “You guys are going to be responsible for pushing the United States into war against the Nazis unless you stop your anti-Nazi films, your anti-Hitler propaganda, your anti-German propaganda. When war breaks out, the American people are going to turn on American Jewry, and there’s going to be an outbreak of anti-Semitism like you’ve never seen, because the Jews are going to be held responsible for every American soldier and the destruction of the American economy.”
Kennedy went even further. It wasn’t just the content of films he regarded as offensive. “You’re going to have to get those Jewish names off the screen,” he bullied his stunned listeners.
Rather than fight anti-Semitism, Kennedy brandished it as a threat. He hectored the Jewish movie magnates about irritating their sworn enemy. The riot act he read them generated shock and underscored all the underlying Jewish insecurities that never went away, despite these entrepreneurs’ presumed rights as Americans and despite their affluence and incontestable achievements.
Their mogul status notwithstanding, Hollywood’s Jews still remained fearful and vulnerable enough not to have produced any film during all of WWII that focused on the methodically organized inhumanity against their own brethren.
Israel’s movie-makers – while they had demonstrated nothing even remotely approaching the originality, dynamism or success of the industry’s Jewish founders – do, nonetheless, seem to have adopted their spinelessness.
Indeed they had gone a huge cardinal step beyond the timidity and faint-heartedness of yesteryear’s moguls. They don’t just desist from challenging the genocidal enemy that bays for their people’s blood, they cynically espouse and hype that enemy’s cause.