Posted by Tom Tugend
9.12.13 at 11:35 am | The Muslims Are Coming to your town, led by two. . .
6.2.13 at 12:05 am | In covering the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf. . .
1.22.13 at 1:02 pm | Two films on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are. . .
1.13.13 at 10:12 pm | "Fill the Void," which depicts life and love in. . .
1.10.13 at 8:43 am | Director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony. . .
12.21.12 at 9:44 am | Israel’s streak of Oscar nominations ended. . .
8.16.12 at 12:11 am | Ari Ephraim Rubin, vice chairman of the Jewish. . . (25)
6.2.13 at 12:05 am | In covering the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf. . . (8)
9.12.12 at 3:28 pm | A film insulting the prophet Muhammad sparked. . . (4)
June 2, 2013 | 12:05 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
Movie mavens may have to come up with a new genre to classify “Hannah Arendt.”
It is an action film, as New York Times critic A.O. Scott suggests, but one in which the protagonists fight with ideas, theories and interpretations on a battle field where a questionable hypothesis can turn lifelong friends into bitter enemies.
Hannah Arendt was born in 1906 in Hanover, the precocious daughter of a German-Jewish family. She barely escaped the Holocaust, arriving in America, via a French detention camp, in 1941.
Here she built on her work as a political theorist and philosopher, producing among other influential works, “The Origin of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.”
She might have continued her life as an intellectual and teacher, respected in her professional circles but unknown to the general public, save for the confluence of events in distant parts of the world.
In 1961, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered Mossad agents to kidnap former SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina to face trial in an Israeli court for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people.
To cover the momentous trial, William Shawn, the legendary editor of The New Yorker magazine, decided to send Arendt, rather than a seasoned journalist, to Jerusalem.
It was a fateful decision, which changed the life of Arendt forever. More importantly, Shawn’s gamble largely shaped how future generations would view Eichmann and his compatriots who transformed Hitler’s fantasies of the master race into the industrialized extermination of six million Jews.
The movie, and the brilliant performance by German actress Barbara Sukowa in the title role, is likely not only to reawaken interest in the Holocaust -- as did “Schindler’s List” – but also renew debate on the roles of both perpetrators and victims.
Director Margarethe von Trotta, who has dealt previously with strong and complex Jewish women (“Rosa Luxemburg”) and the Nazi era (“Rosenstrasse”) faced a particularly daunting task in trying to portray the act of thinking – long and hard – in visual terms.
So the footage is interspersed with Sukowa/Arendt silently chain smoking (cigarette supplies by the car load must have made quite a dent in the film’s budget), pacing back and forth, sitting at a typewriter or lying on a sofa and staring at the ceiling.
The results of Arendt’s arduous thinking were explosive. Her series of articles in The New Yorker, expanded in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” triggered a storm of controversy.
Hate mail and even death threats inundated Arendt and editor Shawn and many of her closest friends broke with the author. At one point, the Anti-Defamation League reportedly urged rabbis to denounce the book in their High Holy Days sermons.
“Banality of evil” became an enduring catch phrase to describe Eichmann and his kind as obedient bureaucrats, who abdicated independent thinking and moral judgment to carry out the orders of their superiors.
But what truly aroused the Jewish community, and many of her old friends, was her belief that the leaders of the Jewish communities in Germany and Poland during the Holocaust were complicit in facilitating the mass deportations to concentration camps.
Granted, Judenrat members may have hoped to soften the Nazi decrees, or just save their own skins, by cooperating with the German occupiers. Arendt, however, went one step further, maintaining that without such Jewish complicity, though there would have been much chaos and misery, the number of victims would have been drastically reduced.
The implication that, in effect, the victims were partially responsible for their ultimate fate was more than even her oldest friends could accept.
In a heart-wrenching scene, Arendt flies to Israel and the bedside of the dying Kurt Blumenfeld, perhaps her closest companion since the days when both were members of a Zionist youth group in Germany.
Arendt tries to mollify and comfort her old friend, but in his last living gesture, he turns his back on her.
This dramatic encounter is exceeded only by a scene near the movie’s end, when Arendt, facing a class at The New School in Manhattan, mounts a long, passionate defense of her writings.
In effect summarizing her philosophy, she exhorts her students that every individual has the duty to think independently if the human race is to avoid future catastrophes on the level of the Holocaust.
She also tries to persuade her critics that in trying to understand the mentality of Nazi war criminals, she in no way means to exculpate or forgive them.
Not all of “Hannah Arendt” is about intellectual sparring or pensive brooding. According to the film, Arendt could also be an ardent woman, who was a loyal and loving wife to her husband, despite his occasional discreet outside affairs.
In once scene, Arendt and American novelist Mary McCarthy, one of her staunchest defenders, discuss philosophical points while engaged in a competitive game of pool.
In a flashback, we see Arendt as a young university student involved in a love affair with her professor, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who became a Nazi party member in 1933.
Some critics of Arendt have detected in her a certain intellectual snobbishness and a typical European disdain for the mental capacity of the “lower classes,” which might have led her to put down Eichmann as a man incapable of thinking for himself.
Such a characterization of Arendt is confirmed, to some degree, by Sukowa, who steeped herself in Arendt’s life and writings, before portraying her in the film.
“Arendt did have a certain snobbishness, though in some of her writing she expressed more democratic attitudes,” Sukowa said in a phone conversation from her home in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, the American artist Robert Longo.
In other observations, Sukowa noted that, like many assimilated German Jews, “Arendt really never knew that she was Jewish,” until forced to confront her ethnicity by Hitler’s edicts in 1933.
In a sense, Arendt’s forceful intellect was both her strength and her weakness, shaping her view of the Eichmann trial “from the perspective of a distant and somewhat ironic observer,” Sukowa said. Perhaps as a result, Arendt could not imagine how hurtful her pronouncements on the banality of evil and the complicity of Jewish leadership were to Holocaust survivors and the families of victims.
After his conviction by an Israeli court, Eichmann was hanged on May 31, 1962, but the questions raised by his trial and Arendt’s reportage persist, and are perhaps timeless.
In Germany and other European countries where the film has opened, Arendt’s “Eichmann In Jerusalem” is now selling more copies than when the book initially came out in 1963, said Pam Katz, who co-wrote the screenplay with director von Trotta.
Katz is the Manhattan-born daughter of a secular German-Jewish family. now lives in Brooklyn, and like Arendt has had to examine her Jewish identity through the impetus of the Eichmann trial.
She admires Arendt as a person and as a penetrating political philosopher, and disagrees with charges that she failed to grasp the real Eichmann in her “banality of evil” assessment.
That view, held by a number of respected historians, proposes that the real Eichmann was a shrewd operator who consciously and aggressively supported the Final Solution, even when he had to go against the orders of superiors or impair the German war effort.
For instance Gabriel Bach, Israel’s senior prosecutor at the trial, recalled two years ago at a Loyola Law School conference that as Soviet armies neared Budapest in the final stages of World War II, SS Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler ordered Eichmann, his subordinate, to halt the trains carrying Jews to death camps.
Eichmann ignored the orders and the trains kept running.
To Holocaust historian Christopher R. Browning, such defiance indicated that Eichmann was much more than an unthinking cog in the death machine.
“Arendt had the right concept [in the banality of evil], but in Eichmann she had the wrong person,” Browning told The Journal at the time. “Eichmann was a very ambitious ideologue, not a banal bureaucrat.”
Katz, however, has a different take. Eichmann had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Fuehrer, Katz said, and felt that Himmler’s orders had to be circumvented because he was betraying Hitler.
As the film’s Arendt says in addressing her students, Katz believes that her key message was “you must start thinking for yourself.”
The movie’s dialogue is alternately in German and English and the picture gains authenticity by frequently inserting clips from the actual trial. The production was financially supported, in part, by the Israel and Jerusalem film funds.
“Hannah Arendt” will open June 7 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and Town Center in Encino.
January 13, 2013 | 10:12 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
The Israeli movie “Fill the Void” has been named best foreign-language film, beating out entries from 41 other countries, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in Southern California.
The International Federation of Film Critics' (FIPRESCI) prize for the Israeli entry was announced Sunday at the conclusion of the 11-day festival, which ran Jan. 3-14.
Though not as prestigious as the Academy Awards, or as well known as the Cannes or Venice film festivals, the Palm Springs event is considered the primary U.S. venue for the screening of foreign movies.
As a Los Angeles Times critic noted, “Nowhere else in America will you see such a diverse range of quality foreign movies across most genres, all in one place.”
This year, the festival screened 182 films, including 42 of the 71 foreign-language movies submitted in the Oscar competition.
“Fill the Void,” written and directed by Rama Burshtein, examines profound issues of faith and conduct within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in Tel Aviv, as viewed from an insider’s perspective.
The festival jury praised the movie for “portraying a culture usually depicted in stereotypical terms, with subtlety, sympathy and sensuality, and employing a style that is intimate, but not intrusive.”
“Fill the Void” has won seven Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar, and received high praise at the Toronto, Venice, New York and Sao Paulo film fests.
Hadas Yaron, who portrays an 18-year old girl torn by the choice of a future husband she loves, and another preferred by her family, won the best actress award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.
Palm Springs, 112 miles east of Los Angeles, has been a favorite playground of Hollywood celebrities since the 1920s, and an array of stars usually attends the festival.
The desert resort cemented its attraction to the Hollywood crowd when the old studios issued the “two-hour rule.” It stated that any actor under contract had to report to the studio within two hours for any last minute reshooting.
Also honored this year in Palm Springs was the Holocaust-themed Serbian film, “When Day Breaks.” In the movie by director Goran Paskaljevic, an elderly music professor, who has always considered himself Christian, discovers that he is the son of Jewish parents, who left him with a farmer’s family and later perished in the Holocaust.
As the stunned professor wanders through present-day Belgrade, he finds that few people remember the war years or that the city’s neglected fairgrounds served as a concentration camp for the local Jews. With his musician friends, he sets about to establish a memorial at the site.
Like the professor, “I cannot NOT remember,” Paskaljevic said in an interview. “If we forget the crimes committed during World War II, and later in Bosnia, that opens the door to new crimes.”
January 10, 2013 | 8:43 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
Spearheaded by two-and-a-half Jews, “Lincoln” led the field with 12 Oscar nominations, announced Thursday (1/10) morning.
Nominated in their respective categories were Steven Spielberg as director, as well as co-producer (with Kathleen Kennedy), playwright Tony Kushner for best adapted screenplay, and Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor.
Day-Lewis is the half-Jew on the “Lincoln” team, with the actress Jill Balcon as his mother. His maternal grandparents, including grandfather Sir Michael Balcon, head of Ealing Studios, immigrated to Britain from Latvia and Poland.
“Lincoln,” which depicts the rough-and-tumble politics leading up to the emancipation of Negro slaves, is also in the running for best picture and (non-Jewish) supporting actors Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
Rounding out the field of Jewish nominees is Mark Boal, up for his original screenplay “Zero Dark Thirty” on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, while Benh (ok) Zeitlin, whose father is Jewish, is in competition as director of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
In addition, veteran actor Alan Arkin got a nod for his supporting role in “Argo,” and L.A. producer Amy Ziering joined the best documentary feature list for “The Invisible War,” which probes sexual assaults in the U.S. armed forces.
Israel, whose entries made the top five shortlists of best foreign-language films in four of the last five years, struck out this time with the impressive “Fill the Void,” an insider’s view of haredi (fervently Orthodox) life in Tel Aviv.
Among the films submitted by 71 countries, five dealt with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath. Though none made the final-five shortlist, their themes indicate that the Holocaust theme still fascinates international filmmakers.
Two of the five nominated feature documentaries deal with Israel’s conflicts at home and abroad.
“The Gatekeepers,” by Israeli Dror Moreh, consists of lengthy, and surprisingly frank, interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, discussing the past, present and likely future of the tumultuous regional conflicts.
“5 Broken Cameras” examines the confrontation between Palestinian villagers and Israeli soldiers, with Emud Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli, as co-directors.
December 21, 2012 | 9:44 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
Israel’s Oscar-nomination run hit another bump Friday , when “Fill the Void,” the country’s entry, failed to make the list of nine semi-finalists among foreign-language films.
This year’s entries from 71 countries showed a renewed interest in Holocaust and World War II themes. Although also shut out, five movies dealt with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath, one film with Talmudic roots, and one on the wartime clashes between Soviet and German forces.
“Fill the Void” by director Rana Burshtein centered on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in Tel Aviv.
Among the nine entries still in the race, Austria’s “Amour” and France’s “The Intouchables” are considered the frontrunners to walk away with the Oscar.
Other countries making the shortlist are Canada, Chile, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Romania and Switzerland. The Palestinian film, “When I Saw You,” failed to make the cut.
Except for 2010, Israel’s entries had made the elite list of five finalists since 2007, but without yet garnering the top prize. Last year’s submission was Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” representing one of the strongest bids by the Israeli film industry, but the trophy went to Iran’s “A Separation.”
Israel’s remaining hope lies in the documentary feature category. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier announced the titles of 15 chosen semi-finalists, including “The Gatekeepers” by Israeli director Dror Moreh, and “5 Broken Cameras” by directors Emud Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli.
The final shortlist of five foreign-language film nominees will be announced Jan. 10, 2013, and the Oscar winner crowned on Feb. 24 in Hollywood.
September 20, 2012 | 2:17 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Amidst the plethora of news reports, keen analyses and entrails divinations on the Muslim Middle East, MEMRI stands out as a key resource in grasping what the Arab man-in-the-street is absorbing through his newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, mosque sermons and school text books.
The acronym stands for Middle East Media Research Institute and day-by-day it shows video clips and interviews from the Arab media, translated into English and 10 other European and Asian languages.
Occasionally, MEMRI cheers its Western viewers with pronouncements by courageous men and women, who speak out against their countries’ corruption, oppression of women, and the corrosive conviction that none of the ills afflicting Arab societies are in any way the fault of their own leaders and people.
Mostly, however, the voices we hear are those of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel ideologues, whose outlandish conspiracy theories might give pause to the inventors of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Those wild fantasies are not uttered by provincial imams addressing illiterate peasants, but by the supposed intellectual elites of their respective countries.
During two recent days, MEMRI featured four such probing minds.
My personal favorite was Syrian-French writer Adnan Azzam, who, not surprisingly, attributed the year-long internal fighting in Syria to a Zionist plot.
But, embarking on a more original path, Azzam revealed that Zionist interference in global affairs goes back to the 18th century when “they changed the course of the French Revolution, and beheaded the King of France within 24 hours, without trial.”
Not satisfied with that bloody regicide, “The Zionists took Napoleon, the young boy from Corsica, and said to him….We will give Corsica back to Italy and Corsica will be independent again… They showered him with money and sent him to Egypt in order to lay the foundation for the State of Palestine.”
That was a hard act to follow, but Sheik Bassam Al-Kayed, head of the Islamic Scholars Association in Lebanon, gave it a try.
The sheik assured his TV audience that the Jews were behind just about every civil strife in the world and when the interviewer asked whether such plotting was continuing today, Al-Kayed quickly enlightened him.
“Don’t you know what’s going on in Burma?” the sheik asked. “The Buddhists are trained by the Jews to do what they are doing (to the Muslims).”
His colleagues having exposed Jewish scheming in the French Revolution and present-day Burma, Ahmad Sabi, media adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, uncovered some Zionist machinations closer to home.
Under the 1979 Camp David peace accord, Sabi revealed, “carcinogenic pesticides were imported from the Zionist entity…and Egypt now suffers from endemic diseases, such as various types of cancer, hepatitis and kidney infections.”
After these presentations on Jewish chicanery past and present, Gamal Zabran, head of the political science department at Port Said University, looked to the triumphant future.
He assured his Egyptian listeners that “the elimination of the Zionist entity is beyond debate, and the only question has to do with the circumstances.”
When the interviewer had the temerity to ask why the Arab regimes didn’t act on their endlessly repeated promise to “liberate Jerusalem,” Zabran quickly updated the time line by predicting that “By next year, Allah willing, Israel will be annihilated.”
September 19, 2012 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Pete Steffens, journalist, teacher, political activist and champion swimmer, died on Aug. 23, at 87, in Nanaimo on Canada’s Vancouver Island, and I lost a friend of 60 years standing.
Pete had the privilege, and the burden, of being the son of a very famous father, muckraker Lincoln Steffens, as well as the stepson of screenwriter and humorist Donald Ogden Stewart.
That was a difficult heritage to live up to, but Pete made his own mark in many fields.
Pete was born in San Remo, Italy, the only child of Lincoln Steffens and writer Ella Winter, and was educated at Harvard and Balliol College, Oxford, where he competed on the rowing team.
He qualified for the Italian Olympic swim team before returning to the United States to serve in the navy during World War II.
I met Pete after the war when we were fellow copyboys on the San Francisco Chronicle, a lowly position (at $32 a week), but which proved to be a springboard for some subsequent journalistic careers of some note.
Pete, who was fluent in eight languages, including Russian, Czech, Italian and Greek, made his journalistic mark working for Reuters in London and the Middle East, for TIME magazine and other publications and broadcast outlets.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, while reporting on Israel and Jordan for TIME, he met Israeli radio reporter Ella, but when they decided to get married, they ran into the same obstacles faced by any planned interfaith marriage in Israel.
While going through the family documents, Pete discovered, rather to his surprise, that his mother, Ella Winter, was Jewish, which cleared the bureaucratic hurdles.
Returning to the United States, Pete turned to teaching at UC Berkeley what he had practiced as a journalist. He jumped full force into the Free Speech Movement of the day and was a mentor to FSM leader Mario Savio.
In the early 1970s, he returned to Israel, to research the early Hebrew-language press and to serve as literary editor of the New Outlook, a magazine written and published jointly by Jewish and Arab Israelis.
His longest teaching stint, lasting 27 years, was at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where he became deeply involved in journalism education for young Native Americans.
Pete spent some years in northern England, where his second wife, author and academic Valerie Alia was teaching, and the couple then moved to Vancouver Island, where Valerie cared for her husband during the lengthy illness preceding his death.
Pete’s writing was notable for the incisive profiles of such world leaders as Golda Meir, King Hussein of Jordan, and other Middle East notables. After a stay at Charlie Chaplin’s Swiss villa, Pete wrote a cover story for Ramparts magazine on the great comedian.
When Pete drew his first breath, Lincoln Steffens, born in 1866, one year after the end of the civil war, was 58. When he died in 1936, Pete was only 11.
Except for historians of American journalism and politics, the name Lincoln Steffens does not ring many bells, but his legacy persists.
At the turn of the 20th century, Lincoln Steffens was at the head of a group of intrepid reporters who exposed the corruption of politics and plutocracy, eating at the heart of American democracy.
Now considered the father of investigative journalism. Steffens shook the political and financial establishments with “The Shame of the Cities.”
The 1904 book, a collection of his exposes for McClure’s magazine, is still studied in university history classes, as is the monumental and best-selling “The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens” (1931).
After the October 1917 Revolution, Steffens visited the newly born Soviet Union, interviewed Lenin, and returned an ardent (though later disillusioned) admirer, proclaiming, “I have seen the future and it works.”
Steffens’ fellow “muckrakers,” so labeled by President Teddy Roosevelt, included the likes of Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker and Frank Norris.
The muckrakers’ latter-day descendants, carrying on the legacy of investigative journalism, count among their number Rachel Carson, Jessica Mitford, Ralph Nader, I.F. Stone, Studs Terkel, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Seymour Hersh.
“The legacy of Lincoln Steffens looms large to this day, if only because the issues he engaged in – from urban poverty to corporate greed – are still alive,” notes historian Dan Letwin of Penn State University.
“He would be distressed (if not surprised) to see how the grotesque inequalities of wealth and power continuer to subvert American democracy,” Letwin said.
Some years after Lincoln Steffens’ death, his widow, Ella Winter, married screenwriter (“The Philadelphia Story”) and humorist Donald Ogden Stewart, who became Pete’s stepfather.
In Pete’s honor, the Western Washington University Foundation has established a journalism scholarship fund for Native American students. Donations may be sent to the Foundation, 516 High St., OM 430, Bellingham, WA 98225. For information, phone (360) 650-3027, or visit www.wwu.edu/give. Please indicate "Pete Steffens Scholarship".
In recent years, Pete worked closely with Peter Hartshorn, author of the recently published “I Have Seen the Future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens.”
At the time of his death, Pete was completing a book of memoirs and helping screenwriter Allison Burnett research a film on Lincoln Steffens.
Pete Steffens is survived by his wife, Valerie Alia, his first wife Ella Steffens, daughters Daneet Rachel Steffens and Sivan Alena Steffens, stepsons David Restivo and Daniel Restivo, stepbrother Donald Stewart and step-granddaughter Mary Margaret Hope-Restivo.
September 13, 2012 | 11:25 am
Posted by Tom Tugend