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      Op-Ed: Time for a Reality Check

      Published: Monday, March 20, 2006 10:18 PM
      Just as Leon Uris's epic film on the birth of the State of Israel (Exodus) set the course for positive relations between America and Israel throughout the 1960s, so the films now being generated by Hollywood on Middle East events will have the exact opposite effect.


      Charles Krauthammer wrote recently: "Nothing tells you more about Hollywood than what it chooses to honor." Nominated for best foreign film this year was Paradise Now, a sympathetic portrayal of two suicide bombers. Nominated for best picture was Munich, a sympathetic portrayal of Arab terrorism. Nominated for best screenplay was Syriana, a film that reinforces every negative perception of America, Americans and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

      Just as Leon Uris's epic film on the birth of the State of Israel (Exodus) set the course for positive relations between America and Israel throughout the 1960s, so the films now being generated by Hollywood on Middle East events will have the exact opposite effect - not only for Israel, but for the perception of America and the use of American power in the early 21st century. They exude anti-Semitism (as anti-Zionism), elicit sympathy for the indefensible and promote America as a malevolent force in the world. Osama Bin Laden must be pleased.

      In Paradise Now, the audience is brought into the world of the suicide bomber and is left with the impression that these are not so much indoctrinated killers as ordinary, regular folk who are simply misunderstood, who act violently because of Israeli "repression", who suffer from the same human frailties as you and me, and who are consequently worthy of our sympathy for possessing such a pathology.

      The movie justifies the murder of Israelis by suggesting that the Palestinians have tried every peaceful method for resolving "the problem of Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing." In one scene, a Palestinian taxi driver explains that the settlers have "poisoned the wells by Nablus" in order to kill Palestinians. The passenger expresses no surprise at this primarily because the Palestinians have long since accepted the medieval anti-Semitic canard that Jews poisoned Christian wells during the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in 1347. So why not Palestinians wells, too? And just before these suicide bombers set out on their road to "martyrdom", they casually sit down to eat a final meal, together with eleven men, in the exact arrangement and with the exact number of participants as in Da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper. This parallel is by design, not by accident.

      By portraying suicide bombers as sympathetic figures, Hollywood has laid the groundwork for justifying barbarism. After all, if you can sympathize with Palestinian terrorists self-detonating on a bus or in a Jerusalem restaurant, then you can sympathize with Saudi terrorists hijacking American passenger planes and crashing them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The message of Paradise Now is simple: "Even mass murderers are human beings." After all (so the argument of the film goes), under the right circumstances, any one of us could become a mass murderer (as if a culture of death, an anti-Semitic public education, Islamic radicalism and the cheapening of human life are all standard "educational" subjects in Western public schools). On the inside, we are told, these suicide bombers are really just like you and me. Give me a break.

      In Syriana, you have a series of different story lines about a corrupt Kazakhstan oil deal, a succession struggle in an oil-rich Arab kingdom and a giant Texas oil company that pulls the strings at the CIA. The political hero is an Arab prince who wants to end corruption, inequality and oppression and who publicly states his intention to modernize his country by introducing a fair and impartial legal system, market efficiency, women's rights and democracy. And he probably would have done so, but for the fact that a remote-controlled missile incinerates him, his wife and children, fired (of course) from CIA headquarters in Langley, just as his evil younger brother, the corrupt rival to the throne and puppet of the oil company, is being hailed as "Oilman of the Year'" by pompous American millionaires.

      What is offensive about Syriana is that it plays into a theme that is blatantly untrue. If anything, America's Middle East foreign policy under this president is overly Wilsonian in its approach and excessively idealistic in seeking to remove intolerance, fanaticism and tyranny from the region, in order to democratize the Arab world. Whether President George Bush is going about it correctly or incorrectly is a matter for historians to decide, but you wouldn't know it from watching Syriana.

      In his article, Krauthammer notes: "On the very night the Oscars will be honoring Syriana, American soldiers will be fighting, some perhaps dying, in defense of precisely the kind of tolerant, modernizing Muslim leader (like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan) that Syriana shows America slaughtering." As Tallyrand (Napoleon's foreign minister) once said, such a portrayal of American foreign policy in the Middle East "is worse than a crime; it's a blunder." Syriana will feed our enemies' hatred of us, reinforce their perceptions of America as the "Great Satan" and more Americans will die because of it.

      And then, of course, there is Munich - a film that memorializes the slaughter of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. It is also the ultimate effort to find moral equivalency between victims and perpetrators, between those who commit unspeakable acts of barbarism and those who refuse to accept such acts by hunting down the terrorist perpetrators one by one and killing them.

      The movie would have been more credible (though less dramatic) had it presented the logical alternative to the Israeli targeted assassinations of the Munich plotters. Had the Israelis "followed the book" and let international law run its course, the Munich plotters would have been arrested by the Europeans (perhaps), tried in a court of law, given life sentences in Europe... and released (as actually happened) a few years later, when European citizens were kidnapped and ransomed in return for the release of some of the Munich terrorists.

      What Munich does not reveal is that the Israeli response of targeted assassinations throughout Europe and the Middle East sent a chilling signal to future Palestinian terrorist planners throughout Europe: they would not be immune from the consequences of their actions. The Palestinians came to understand very quickly that they would pay with their lives for killing Jews. As a former member of the Mossad (Israel's foreign spy network) noted recently on a TV documentary on this subject: "Since that time, there has been no repeat of Munich in Europe."

      If Munich is Spielberg?s idea of paying tribute to the eleven murdered Israeli athletes, imagine how well his moral equivalency argument would go over in America if he directed a film the theme of which was that there was no difference between the actions of the perpetrators of 9/11 (and the 3,000 lives they snuffed out) and the reactions of America in response to the 9/11 tragedies. Don't wait for it. Munich should indeed have received an Oscar - for the most hypocritical film of the year.