“Seven Days in Entebbe” misses the point
“Seven Days in Entebbe” misses the point

Have you ever come out of a movie and wanted to go right to the ticket counter to get your money back? 

That was my first reaction after paying too much, or for that matter, paying anything, to see the fourth movie about the 1976 Entebbe rescue, enticingly titled, “Seven Days in Entebbe.”

The giveaway that it was going to be a biased, tedious, bust happened right from the start when the ticker tape tried to enlighten the uniformed that the Palestinian Arabs had since 1948 been fighting to get “their land” back. No mention of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attacking Israel to snuff it out of existence.

The film’s opening scene, oddly enough, is at a dance studio rehearsal where one dancer keeps falling down with Passover music blaring. We’re supposed to interpret this avant-garde scene, popping up throughout the movie like fingernails on a chalkboard, with some deep relevant connection to the rescue of Jewish hostages, something that only an artsy director can conjure up and assume the rest of us will get it. We don’t, and the annoyance continues on from there.

The film is essentially a remake of the three original Entebbe films- the made-for-TV “Victory at Entebbe,” “Raid on Entebbe” with Charles Bronson, and the Israeli made “Operation Thunderbolt” - all of which appeared within a year of the hostage rescue. 

Why we need another one some four decades later is anyone’s guess, especially since the original three were actually quite good. Yet these films were made in the euphoria of the aftermath of the Entebbe rescue, in the traditional spirit of good vs. evil, with a clear line between the heroes and villains

But that’s just it.

In this era of moral relativism any new movie about Entebbe would inevitably lapse into the two-sides-to-every-issue syndrome. And that is precisely where “Seven Days in Entebbe” lands. 

Trying to show “both sides” of a terrorist hijacking is challenging, but the producers are clearly up to the task. Yes, hijacking is not a good thing and holding people hostage is even worse but.... it’s all for the Palestinian Arabs, don’t you know? They want their land back and without an army and air force have to resort to these extreme measures to get the world to understand their plight and come to their aid.

Got that?

And those Germans who led the hijacking? Well, even though they separated the Jews and threatened to kill them all, we’re supposed to wonder if they would really have killed them. After all, they were wary that the public would see them as Nazis, rather than noble revolutionary freedom fighters. “I want to throw bombs into the consciousness of the masses,” proclaims the German terrorist whom the movie depicts as a nice guy, albeit with skewed intentions. 

The folksy scene where the “good” German terrorist is comforting his hostage- a grandmotherly German Holocaust survivor donning a serial number -is entirely fictional. That the producers would go to such lengths to try humanize the terrorists is offensive to the extreme. But try, they do.

Even the “bad” German terrorist is depicted with some pang of conscience when it dons on her that she may actually have to start killing Jewish children, just like her Nazi forbearers did.

As for the main characters, Shimon Peres, the Defense Minister (and later President of Israel), seems like an automaton and looks like a refugee from a leper colony. In real life he wasn’t as dashing as his character played by Burt Lancaster in “Victory at Entebbe,” yet neither was he the reincarnation of Elephant Man. Yitztak Rabin, the Prime Minister, is cynical, pessimistic, and along with his ministers, chain smokes his way through the problem before arriving at the momentous decision to launch a rescue mission, with the equally cynical Peres waiting in the wings for him to take the fall if all goes wrong.

Which leads us to the central casting question- where’s Yoni? As in Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu, the heroic commander killed in the rescue? He’s there, but relegated to the background as the small army prepares its mission. The first Entebbe films delved into the character and mind of Yoni. This movie focuses on the motives and feelings of the German terrorists instead.

There was, of course, a battle at the Entebbe Airport in which 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed, a row of Ugandan jet fighters destroyed, and the flight tower blown up, but you’d hardly know it from the few minutes the movie covers it. In a fleeting moment of accuracy, the film depicts the Israeli commandos quickly shooting the terrorists, even the “good” German terrorist, who is last seen forgoing blowing up the Jewish hostages to shoot back at Israeli soldiers. 

At the end we’re treated to an ever pessimistic Rabin, who upon hearing the news of the successful rescue, slouches in his chair lamenting on the need for future negotiations. His caption soon reads that he was killed by a Jewish extremist, just like German extremists, just like Palestinian Arab extremists (terroriststs). Message received, loud and clear.

In a perfect theatrical world Ridley Scott would have directed a blockbuster Entebbe update with Leonardo DiCaprio depicting the heroic Yoni and Kiefer Sutherland as the wise and brilliant Peres. 

Yet that was done a long time ago. Just a few months after the 1976 Entebbe rescue Hollywood recruited a mind boggling array of mega-stars like Anthony Hopkins to play Rabin, Richard Dreyfuss as Yoni, Linda Blair as a hostage, and even Elizabeth Taylor as some hostage’s mother. And that was just for starters.

The Hollywood stars dropped everything to appear in this made-for-television movie, which they rarely did at the time. But this was something special, really extraordinary, and they needed to be a part of it. They wanted to play a role in the heroic story of the heroic country that they all admired- Israel. 

The 1976 rescue at Entebbe was the pinnacle of a virtuous, heroic Israel in the eyes of the media. After that it was all down hill. Barely six years later a Time Magazine cover displayed a big Israeli tank with the big caption, “Israel’s Blitz,” comparing Israel’s attack on Palestinian terror bases in Lebanon to the Nazi invasion of Europe. The rest of the media followed suit and never looked back.

“Seven Days in Entebbe” misses the glaring historical lesson. Entebbe was a remarkable victory in the annals of the war on terror, which really began decades before 9/11. A small democracy, besieged by terrorists, fought back, and did the extraordinary- flying an army several thousand miles to a hostile country to rescue its brethren. It resonated with people in the democracies, but for Israel it struck a nerve. It was personal. 

A generation before that, on a much larger scale, Jews were captured, separated from the Gentiles, and killed, because they were Jews. And no one could- or would -do anything about it. There were no Jewish commandos; no Jewish air force. No Jewish State. Entebbe changed that forever, for all the world to see.

In the world of darkness that was Auschwitz, there is Entebbe. 
Entebbe meant Victory. 
Entebbe meant Survival.
Entebbe meant Redemption. 
For the Jewish State, for the Jewish people.

Something that “Seven Days in Entebbe” just doesn’t get.

Tom Mountain was the 2016 MA/NH Trump Campaign Director for Jewish Outreach