When the controversial film "Paradise Now" is introduced at the March 5 Oscars ceremony, the live and television audiences may wonder not just whether it will win, but exactly where it came from.
In the listing by countries of the five nominees for foreign language film honors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives the origin of "Paradise Now" as "Palestine."
In various Academy news releases, the designation has been "Palestinian Authority."
The final word isn't in yet, but Academy decision makers are "leaning toward" the term "Palestinian Territories," said John Pavlik, the academy's director of communications. The alternatives reflect the geopolitical uncertainties and sensitivities of the Middle East, as well as the flexibility of Academy rules. As in the Olympic Games, only internationally recognized countries are eligible to enter the foreign language film competition, but this year's list of 58 entries includes such entities as Hong Kong, Puerto Rico and Taiwan.
On the basis of such inclusiveness, the Academy two years ago accepted the film "Divine Intervention" as the entry of "Palestine."
The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles has been caught up in the controversy about the film, which explores the motivations and doubts of two would-be suicide bombers assigned to blow up a Tel Aviv bus. Its director, Hany Abu-Assad, and the leading actors are Israeli Arabs.
Yediot Acharonot, the Israeli mass circulation daily, published a story summarized in a paragraph below the headline:
"Powerful Israelis and Jews in Hollywood exert pressures on American Academy members in a bid to prevent 'Paradise Now' from winning Oscar. Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats get academy's commitment not to present film as representing Palestinian state."
The article got more fanciful as it was picked up by the foreign media, such as the Turkish online newspaper, Zaman. It reported that two Israeli diplomats "have already been guaranteed by the Academy that it will not show the Palestinian film at the Oscar ceremony," apparently referring to brief clips used to introduce nominated movies.
The original Israeli article identified the Israeli diplomats as Consul General Ehud Danoch and Gilad Millo, consul for public affairs. It also cited sources at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, who "condemned attempts to hinder 'Paradise Now's' chances in the Oscars, saying these efforts may tarnish Israel's international reputation as state that advocates freedom of speech."
Millo categorically denied the report.
"We have had no contact or involvement with the Academy on this film," he said. "We are focused on more important matters."
Pavlik said that no "communications" had been received from the Israeli consulate or Jewish organizations regarding "Paradise Now."
However, Pavlik did not dismiss the possibility that interested individuals had passed on their views on the film to Academy leaders and members in social settings, adding that clips of all foreign language nominees will be screened, including "Palestine Now."
American Jewish organizations, with few exceptions, have stayed away from the controversy. One reason may be that few persons, Jewish or otherwise, have actually seen the film. Furthermore -- and politics aside -- the film is generally considered to be of high quality, has received excellent reviews, and was crowned with a Golden Globe as best foreign film of the year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
According to a survey by The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, neither the Simon Wiesenthal Center nor the Anti-Defamation League, usually quick to react to any anti-Israel slights, have mounted any protests.
The film and its director were warmly received at a sold-out audience of nearly 500 at the University of Judaism.
However, there has been criticism by StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, as well as by the American Jewish Congress and the Republican Jewish Coalition. Most active has been the U.S.-based Israel Project, which has widely circulated a letter by Yossi Zur, whose 16-year-old son was killed by a suicide bomber. The letter urges the academy not to award an Oscar to "Paradise Now." A petition to withdraw the nomination of the film entirely has been signed by 24,000 people, according to the Israel Project.
One observer noted that Israel's official Oscar entry, "What a Wonderful Place," presents a considerably worse picture of Israelis than does the Palestinian film. The Israeli entry did not receive a nomination.