Another sign of the great change afoot in our political culture. The New York Times has a great piece by Robert Mackey on the legendary director Marcel Ophuls’s new film project about Israel, “Unpleasant Truths,” for which he is raising money. Mackey says Ophuls is skeptical of Zionism.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, that wartime experience [fleeing the Nazis in 1933 and 1941] left Mr. Ophuls wary of embracing the Zionist dream of a homeland for the Jews in the Middle East.
Actually it’s better than that. In the delicious 12-minute trailer the Times has posted to its site, Ophuls says of his father: “He thought the Jews’ destiny in the 20th century was to be cosmopolites. Against nationalism.” And asked if he is a Zionist, Ophuls winces. “Not at all.”
Then he interviews Michel Warschawski saying that the Israel lobby in France is “importing” a religious conflict from Israel to France (what Scott McConnell said about the special relationship as the “transmission belt” of bad ideas to the U.S.), and Ophuls points out the poisonous fruits of Zionism. Palestinians live in a “prison” in the West Bank, he says, “it’s apartheid.” Then we see rightwing demonstrators opposing marriage of Jews and Arabs and shouting “Death to Arabs!” In the New York Times! Ophuls is showing up Jodi Rudoren.
And notice how shocked and offended the great old man is by the Islamophobia expressed by a Frenchman at 3:40 of the trailer. The man says that French women are sleeping with Muslims, making their wombs a weapon for Arabs. Ophuls sighs afterward: “Racist, fascist, the worst there is, he rattled racist bullshit for 5 minutes.”
Mackey gets it right: “The question the filmmakers want to explore, Mr. Sivan added, is whether ‘Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism.’”…
Then the director interviews an Israeli rabbi who states that one out of three Muslims is a murderer.
Former speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg tells Ophuls that the idea of partition is over. “We have to move into shared society, shared territory, shared sovereignty, shared resources.” Call it post-Zionism or anti-Zionism; but notice that it’s Jews who get to say this stuff.
The most beautiful interview in the film is at 10:40. Look at it. Ophuls asks a lovely Palestinian woman how her son, lately arrested, became a militant. She explains that during the first intifada the Israelis demolished their home, and at 10 the boy couldn’t go to school.
“If he had studied and lived in dignity everything would be different…. He saw his brother killed. What else could he have done?”
Unbelievable. When you watch that interview, you understand that what an exercise in ethnic supremacy it is to talk to Israeli Jews and American Jews about this problem when there are articulate Palestinians who have deep experience of Zionism. Ophuls suffers from it. The New Yorker suffers from it. We have to break out of this structural racism.
“So another of your sons was killed?” Ophuls asks.
“Yes. His brother is a martyr.”
“Thank you,” Ophuls says, smiling in evident sympathy.
So terrorism is explained, on the New York Times site. Ophuls’s last statement, apropos of Gaza, that the “suffering is on the other side” is a beautiful moral conclusion.
More on the Jewish supremacy question. Last summer the Rev. Bruce Shipman lost his chaplain job at Yale because of his three-sentence letter to the New York Times suggesting that the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe can be laid partly at the feet of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. The idea that Israel is somehow to blame for Jewish hatred — anathema! The Yale president leapt into action on the case. Shipman stumbled up the turnpike to Groton, and was forced to publicly examine his heart over and over for a scintilla of bigotry.
But in the Times today Ophuls and Sivan ask the same question.
[Last summer Ophuls] called Mr. Sivan, suggesting that together they direct a documentary looking at both the war in Gaza and the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. A central focus of the film, Mr. Sivan said in a telephone interview, is to ask if the two situations are linked. To put it bluntly, Mr. Sivan said, the two directors hoped to answer the question: “Is Israel provoking anti-Semitism?” Mackey writes, “Mr. Sivan said, the two directors hoped to answer the question: ‘Is Israel provoking anti-Semitism?’
Their careers will not be damaged by that exploration, though, because they are Jewish. That is unfair.