Miral, Israel and AJC
David Harris, AJC Executive Director
March 17, 2011
Want a case study in disinformation and misinformation?
On March 11th, AJC wrote to the UN General Assembly President, Joseph Deiss, asking him to reconsider hosting the premiere of a new film, Miral, at UN headquarters on March 14th.
Our reasoning was simple: The film was about a highly controversial topic -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- and no such film had ever been debuted at the UN before.
Why now? Why this film? Why with the cachet of Deiss's office?
Moreover, we noted, "The Israeli Mission to the UN was not even given the minimal courtesy of being consulted in advance about the wisdom of showing such a film that deals, after all, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." If the event went ahead, it would "only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment at the UN."
Now imagine for a moment that Deiss had opted to premiere a film that portrayed the Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir, which has nearly brought the world to nuclear war, through the eyes of one side only. Or the division of Cyprus through the lens of only the Greek or Turkish perspective. Or the dispute over the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, which has led to an Argentine-British war, from one side, but not the other.
All hell would break loose in the UN -- and that's no exaggeration.
But along came Miral and all the rules were broken. Because it involved Israel, and not nations with far more clout in the UN system, the protest fell on deaf ears. The show went on and, once again, Israel got the short end of the stick on First Avenue.
In the lead-up, the film's defenders rushed to the ramparts. In the end, they knew they'd win. They had Hollywood fame and celebrity on their side, and the UN in their corner. But, hey, a little controversy played right can only help box-office sales once the film hits the theaters, so why not milk the opportunity for all it's worth, even if it means playing fast and loose with the truth?
First, they accused AJC of not having seen the film.
Our colleague, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, viewed it initially in September at the Venice Film Festival. She wrote a review for The Jerusalem Post. Her conclusion: "Israel is portrayed as the unequivocal villain... Not only did [director Julian] Schnabel choose not to tell the whole story, but he also shirked a director's responsibility of providing the historical framework necessary for even his half of the story."
Then the film's distributor, Harvey Weinstein, proclaimed that he had invited AJC to the premiere.
Wrong! No such invitation was ever received.
Then Weinstein went on to invoke his teen-age daughters, Lili and Emma, who reportedly said: "Give Mr. Harris a copy of the Constitution and point out the paragraph about free speech."
Perhaps he can explain to his daughters that this is not about the United States and First Amendment rights, but about the UN, where the Constitution doesn't quite apply. If it did, by the way, we'd have a whole lot less to worry about in the world today, beginning with the likes of Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba.
Don't be concerned, Lili and Emma, no one is trying to deny anyone's free-speech rights, least of all an organization so dedicated to the First Amendment that it defended the rights of American Nazis a few years back to march in this country, however utterly repulsive their views.
This whole story was only -- I repeat, only -- about the appropriate role of the President of the UN General Assembly, not the neighborhood multiplex, though you wouldn't have known it from the plaintive cries of some.
Then along came Jean-Viktor Nkolo, spokesman for President Deiss, who claimed, according to the Los Angeles Times, that "hosting a premiere at the United Nations was not such an unusual occurrence, though he was unable to name another film that had premiered at the headquarters."
Not surprising that he couldn't name the UN debut of another film on a politically controversial topic, because no one else can, either.
Then there's the film's producer, Jon Kilik, who said for the record, "We made this film in order to encourage the very dialogue that AJC seems to want to prevent."
Hmm, that's quite an indictment, if only it were true.
What kind of dialogue does Mr. Kilik have in mind if the Israelis are not part of the conversation? Did Mr. Kilik and his colleagues press President Deiss to discuss the film with the Israeli side in advance, if only out of common decency and the rules of diplomatic etiquette?
As for what happens across the country when the film appears, be assured, Mr. Kilik, that AJC won't be involved in trying to "prevent" dialogue, however one-sided the film might be.
After all, we're the organization that spends more time in the Arab world than any other, devotes more energy worldwide to Muslim-Jewish conversation, and opens our doors to those with whom we don't necessarily agree on every issue but need to hear from.
And finally, Messrs. Schanbel, Weinstein and Kilik, if you're looking for new film ideas, here are two.
How about doing a feature-length documentary on how the UN, founded in the wake of the Second World War and on the ashes of the Holocaust, has become structurally and systemically biased against the State of Israel, irrespective of what government sits in office in Jerusalem or what's happening on the ground?
Evidence abounds wherever you look, beginning with the startling fact that since 1949 Israel has never had the chance to serve as a member of the Security Council, and that more than two-thirds of all resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council deal with Israel alone. It would make for quite a story, one now unknown to many, especially in the hands of skillful filmmakers who profess concern for Israel.
And if you want to get more personal about individual lives in the midst of conflict, as does Miral, here's another plot line yet to be touched by Hollywood -- the personal stories of Jews uprooted from Arab lands, sent packing if they were lucky enough to escape pogroms, and forcibly cut off from their ancestral lands.
Pretty heart-wrenching stuff. I happen to know because I live with it every day through my wife and her family.
But then again, the UN never promoted "dialogue" on this issue. The powerful Arab bloc, joined by their buddies, wouldn't think to allow it.
Would Hollywood consider it?
Given what we were recently told by a top executive, not a chance. In fact, he said, you couldn't have gotten a major studio to produce Exodus today. Too hot to handle, too risky to careers, and potentially too dangerous, for life and limb, to be associated with a film seen as sympathetic to Israel.
Messrs. Schnabel, Weinstein and Kilik, please prove him wrong. You say you want to promote dialogue. There's more than one dialogue that needs promoting.
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