‘NYT’ praises ‘Gatekeepers’ as savior of Jewish democracy, overlooks ‘5 Broken Cameras’

on 8 Comments

A tale of two documentaries.

The other day New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren did a story about whether The Gatekeepers, the Oscar-nominated Israeli documentary that features six former heads of the Israeli security service Shin Bet denouncing the occupation they all helped to enforce, could change Israeli opinion and save the two-state solution. The article stated that the film had helped transform American Jews, but alas the film is not being heard in Israel:

In the United States the confessions of these tough terrorist hunters have startled and provoked audiences, fueling the criticism among Jewish liberals of the right-leaning Israeli government’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank….

But one of the subjects of the film, Ami Ayalon — who followed his Shin Bet tenure with several years in Parliament — worries that the film will have less impact where it is most important, because “most Israelis who saw it are Israelis who are convinced.”

“Most Israelis are not listening.” [Ayalon said]….

The message of “The Gatekeepers,” formed from the collective wisdom of the six living former Shin Bet leaders, is this: The occupation is immoral and, perhaps more important, ineffective. Israel should withdraw from the West Bank as it did from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And the prospect of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict diminishes daily, threatening the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy.

I admire the Gatekeepers, I praised it as a riveting and disturbing investigation. But this piece is further evidence of the double standard that the Times has for Jewish and Palestinian visions of the conflict: it grants just one paragraph to a second Oscar-nominated documentary from Israel/Palestine that also shows the occupation to be immoral. But “5 Broken Cameras” is told from the Palestinian point of view, and the Times scants the picture: “a $250,000, intimate movie mostly of video shot by a Palestinian [Emad Burnat, unnamed] who spent years at weekly protests of Israel’s separation barrier encroaching on his West Bank village [Bil’in, unnamed].”

Imagine if there were two documentaries about the Jim Crow South going for an Oscar. And one was narrated by white sheriffs who in their “collective wisdom” despaired about what they were doing, and bracingly compared themselves to Nazis (as one of the Shin Bet guys does).

But another film was narrated by the blacks who lived under Jim Crow, and actually showed you a lynching. Something like the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmah, the beautiful larger-than-life villager who dominates the screen in “5 Broken Cameras.”

I don’t think the Times would have focused on the white sheriffs movie alone.

I have often criticized the Times for being culturally-bound, for reflecting an inside-Jewish-Israel point of view, and that criticism is refreshed by this piece. The writer holds a candle for “Israel as a Jewish democracy.” Is such a thing possible? Isn’t that like saying the U.S. could be a “white democracy”? Daniel Levy writes in the Nation that such a project is impossible and its discrediting is long overdue. Shlomo Sand– himself a two-stater– has a book out saying much the same thing; he wants Israel to be a democracy of its citizens. So does Haneen Zoabi, the outspoken Palestinian member of Knesset. I wish the Times would enter that discourse.

Then, too, the Times article cites the political impact of the film on “Jewish liberals” back in the States. Maybe it’s had that effect, but the Times offers no evidence. It sounds to me like the Times is lobbying Hollywood to give Gatekeepers an Oscar.

I would of course prefer that “5 Broken Cameras” get the Oscar– just as I’d prefer to hear blacks narrate the Jim Crow south, and a lesser role given to the white sheriffs.

And as to the impact of “5 Broken Cameras” on audiences– look at the video that Guy Davidi, director of 5 Broken Cameras, has put together below. It is devastating, and demonstrates why 5BC is a morally-exalted work.

In this film, Davidi screens the movie to young Israeli Jews, who will soon have to go off and be the enforcers of the occupation. And watch how they respond. They identify with the oppressed. They say that they would also throw stones if they lived in Bil’in, and at night the soldiers would come for them. Look at the haunted face of the girl at 1:40. They are angry at the Israeli soldiers. They speak of the Palestinian children’s “gentleness… coping beautifully with the harsh reality.” Look at the thrilling scene of the martyr Bassem Abu Rahmah at 5:30.

Davidi goes to a larger point here: censorship. These Israeli schoolchildren say they knew nothing about the occupation. They have been brainwashed, one man says; this situation has never been described to them in school. They denounce the censorship as censorship.

What movies do Israeli schoolchildren see? Davidi shows the army going into a school to screen a movie about the great Israeli military attacking Lebanon. And a military spokesperson says the purpose is to “establish an affinity with the military,” to keep the young from evading service, and to build national pride. The scene feels fascistic.

But what can I do about censorship in Israel? That’s not my society. It’s a rightwing militaristic society. The U.S. is my society, and the liberal American Jewish community is the community I came out of. Why is the Times censoring material for that audience? Imagine that only the sheriffs got to narrate Jim Crow.

P.S. Yes, Ethan Bronner did write up “5 Broken Cameras” in the Times, but that was more than a year ago. And yes, we cover Gatekeepers ourselves today; Estee Chandler asks the right questions. And we’ve often written up 5 Broken Cameras.

8 Responses

  1. tombishop
    January 28, 2013, 1:12 pm

    For those who have it, “5 Broken Cameras” is available in Netflix streaming and DVD.

    • Citizen
      January 29, 2013, 6:35 am

      The full film is also available in five parts on YouTube–for free. To date, not many hits.

  2. Les
    January 28, 2013, 3:00 pm

    The Times, as does NPR, considers its obligation not to cover but instead to cover up Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Such is what passes for American “journalism.”

    • Bumblebye
      January 28, 2013, 6:32 pm

      Rupert Murdoch has just apologised for a Gerald Scarfe cartoon which appeared in yesterday’s ‘real’ Times (of London) depicting Netanyahu building a wall gory with Palestinian body parts. It was deemed ‘anti-Semitic’, for content (!) and for appearing on Holocaust Memorial Day.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    January 28, 2013, 4:43 pm

    RE: “Imagine if there were two documentaries about the Jim Crow South going for an Oscar. And one was narrated by white sheriffs who…despaired about what they were doing. . . But another film was narrated by the blacks who lived under Jim Crow, and actually showed you a lynching. . . I don’t think the Times would have focused on the white sheriffs movie alone.” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: Phil ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie, y’all! ! !

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [New York Times Co. v. Sullivan]:

    (EXCERPTS) New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case that established the actual malice standard, which has to be met before press reports about public officials or public figures can be considered to be defamation and libel;[2] and hence allowed free reporting of the civil rights campaigns in the southern United States. It is one of the key decisions supporting the freedom of the press. . .
    . . . On March 29, 1960, the New York Times carried a full-page advertisement titled “Heed Their Rising Voices”,[3] which solicited funds to defend Martin Luther King, Jr. against an Alabama perjury indictment. The advertisement described actions against civil rights protesters, some of them inaccurately, some of which involved the police force of Montgomery, Alabama. Referring to the Alabama State Police, the advertisement stated that “They have arrested [King] seven times…”[4] However, at that point he had been arrested four times. Although the Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, was not named in the advertisement, the inaccurate criticism of the actions by the police was considered as defamation against him as well by virtue of his position and duty to supervise the police department.
    Alabama law denied a public officer recovery of punitive damages in a libel action brought on account of a publication concerning their official conduct unless they first make a written demand for a public retraction and the defendant fails or refuses to comply, so Sullivan sent such a request.[1] The Times did not publish a retraction in response to the demand. Instead it wrote a letter[citation needed] stating, among other things, that “we … are somewhat puzzled as to how you think the statements in any way reflect on you,” and “you might, if you desire, let us know in what respect you claim that the statements in the advertisement reflect on you”.[1] Sullivan did not respond but instead filed this “libel” suit a few days later. Further, he sued four black ministers mentioned in the ad, specifically Ralph Abernathy, S.S. Seay, Sr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery. Sullivan won $500,000 in an Alabama court judgment.[5]
    The Times did subsequently publish a retraction of the advertisement upon the demand of Governor John Patterson of Alabama, who asserted that the publication charged him with “grave misconduct and … improper actions and omissions as Governor of Alabama and ex-officio chairman of the State Board of Education of Alabama.”[1] When asked to explain why there had been a retraction for the Governor but not for Sullivan, the Secretary of the Times testified: “We did that because we didn’t want anything that was published by the Times to be a reflection on the State of Alabama and the Governor was, as far as we could see, the embodiment of the State of Alabama and the proper representative of the state and, furthermore, we had by that time learned more of the actual facts which the ad purported to recite and, finally, the ad did refer to the action of the state authorities and the Board of Education presumably of which the Governor is the ex-officio chairman….” On the other hand, he testified that he did not think that “any of the language in there referred to Mr. Sullivan.”[1]
    The Court ruled for The Times, 9–0.[5] The rule of law applied by the Alabama courts was found constitutionally deficient for failure to provide the safeguards for freedom of speech and of the press that are required by the First and Fourteenth Amendments in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct. The decision further held that under the proper safeguards the evidence presented in this case is constitutionally insufficient to support the judgment for Sullivan. . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  4. DICKERSON3870
    January 28, 2013, 5:21 pm

    RE: “Davidi goes to a larger point here: censorship. These Israeli schoolchildren say they knew nothing about the occupation. They have been brainwashed. . . “ ~ Weiss

    FOR URI AVNERY’S CONCURRENCE* AS TO THE “BRAINWASHING” THAT GOES ON IN ISRAEL, SEE: “Israel’s Weird Elections”, by Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 1/04/13:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . The Israeli media are already to a large extent neutralized, a creeping process not unsimilar to what the Germans used to call Gleichschaltung. [SEE: Gleichschaltung @ Wikipedia – J.L.D. ]
    All three TV channels are more or less bankrupt and dependent on government handouts. Their editors are practically government appointees. The printed press is also teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, except the largest “news” paper, which belongs to Sheldon Adelson and is a Netanyahu propaganda sheet, distributed gratis. [Naftali] Bennett repeats the ridiculous assertion that almost all journalists are left-wingers (meaning traitors.) He promises to put an end to this intolerable situation. . .
    . . . In the coming four years, the official annexation of the West Bank to Israel may become a fact. . .
    . . . If the government continues on its present course, this will lead to certain disaster – the entire country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will become one unit under Israeli rule. This Greater Israel will contain an Arab majority and a shrinking Jewish minority, turning it inevitably into an apartheid state, plagued by a permanent civil war and shunned by the world.
    If pressure from without and within eventually compels the government to grant civil rights to the Arab majority, the country will turn into an Arab state. 134 years of Zionist endeavor will come to naught, a repetition of the Crusaders’ kingdom.
    This is so obvious, so inevitable, that one needs an iron will not to think about it. It seems that all major parties in these elections have this will. Speaking about peace, they believe, is poison. Giving back the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace? God forbid even thinking about it.
    The weird fact is that this week two respected polls – independent of each other – came to the same conclusion: the great majority of Israeli voters favors the “two-state solution”
    , the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and the partition of Jerusalem. This majority includes the majority of Likud voters, and even about half of Bennett’s adherents.
    How come? The explanation lies in the next question: How many voters believe that this solution is possible? The answer: almost nobody. Over dozens of years, Israelis have been brainwashed into believing that “the Arabs” don’t want peace. If they say they do, they are lying.
    If peace is impossible, why think about it? Why even mention it in the election campaign? Why not go back 44 years to Golda Meir’s days and pretend that the Palestinians don’t exist? (“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…It is not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away. They did not exist.” – Golda Meir, June 13, 1969) . . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – link to counterpunch.org

    * Catch Me If You Can Movie CLIP – Do You Concur? (2002) [VIDEO, 01:53] – link to youtube.com

  5. DICKERSON3870
    January 28, 2013, 5:27 pm

    RE: “Davidi goes to a larger point here: censorship. These Israeli schoolchildren say they knew nothing about the occupation. They have been brainwashed, one man says; this situation has never been described to them in school. “ ~ Weiss

    SEE: “Academic claims Israeli school textbooks contain bias” ~ By Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk, 8/07/11
    Nurit Peled-Elhanan of Hebrew University says textbooks depict Palestinians as “terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers”

    [EXCERPT] Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, mother and political radical, summons up an image of rows of Jewish schoolchildren, bent over their books, learning about their neighbours, the Palestinians. But, she says, they are never referred to as Palestinians unless the context is terrorism.
    They are called Arabs. “The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don’t pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don’t want to develop,” she says. “The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists.
    You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer.”
    Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the content of Israeli school books for the past five years, and her account, “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education”, is to be published in the UK this month. She describes what she found as racism– but, more than that, a racism that prepares young Israelis for their compulsory military service. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to guardian.co.uk

    VIDEO of interview with Peled-Elhanan (08:48) – link to youtube.com

    P.S. ALSO SEE: Is Change possible in Israel? (VIDEO, 07:49) – link to youtube.com
    Prof. Haim Bresheeth tries to answer this question – why can some Israelis change, and support the Palestinian cause, but change seems elusive in Israel? Should we wait and hope for such change?

  6. Boston
    January 29, 2013, 8:36 am

    Did you write a letter to the NYT making these very points?

    In all likelihood they would never print it. But who knows. Take a chance. If it ever did get printed, I am sure it would start an avalanche of letters and emails to the NYT supporting your posistion (as well as the usual attacks calling you a nazi and an anti-semite — or self hating Jews if they know who you are)

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