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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)
January 22, 2013 | 1:02 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Two films on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are in the final lap of five Oscar contenders for best documentary feature.
“The Gatekeepers” is told from the perspective of the six men who headed Israel’s Shin Bet internal security and counter-terrorism apparatus over the past three decades, tough men who oversaw such operations as the targeted assassinations of Hamas and other terrorist leaders.
“5 Broken Cameras” is a chronicle filmed by a Palestinian farmer of his village’s resistance against a rising Israeli settlement, including his footage of the soldiers who tried to squelch the villagers’ protests.
Two more opposing backgrounds and viewpoints are hard to imagine. Yet, surprisingly, the protagonists in each of these documentaries come to much the same conclusion — that the Israeli government has been, and is, on the wrong track, and that military force alone will neither solve the conflict nor assure the Jewish state’s survival.
The tone in “Cameras” is emotional, while “Gatekeepers” is more intellectualized, but both prove that Israelis will accept a level of criticism, from within and without, that likely would seem daunting for most Americans to stomach, or for mainstream Hollywood to depict.
If that wasn’t enough, Israel’s government actually helped pay for production of both films.
Asked for an explanation of this phenomenon, Dror Moreh, director of “Gatekeepers,” said in an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel, “We Jews are masters of self-criticism. It’s in our genes.”
The six Shin Bet men vary as much as the prime ministers who appointed them, from Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres to Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, but they all share a hard-headed intellect and a disdain for most of Israel’s politicians, past and present.
Avraham Shalom (Shin Bet head from 1980 to 1986), the oldest of the six, fought in the pre-state underground, helped track down and kidnap Adolf Eichmann, and pursued both the Arab perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and extremist Jewish West Bank settlers.
An avuncular-looking type, dressed in a plaid shirt and red suspenders, Shalom sets much of the tone for his successors. All generally agree that despite all rebuffs and failures, Israel must try to negotiate with any or all Palestinian factions to overcome deeply embedded stereotypes and take some tentative steps on the path to peace.
“Negotiate with anyone?” interviewer Moreh asks somewhat incredulously. “Yes, anyone,” Shalom answers, even Hamas and even Islamic Jihad.
Yaakov Peri (1988-1995) was the key figure in battling the Second Intifada, setting up a vast network of Palestinian informers and collaborators and allegedly authorizing “exceptional practices” during Shin Bet interrogations.
Yet, in the film, Peri speaks of his reflections on “the memories etched deep inside you. … When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”
Moreh filmed some 72 hours of interviews, with additional time spent culling graphic archival footage that is interspersed throughout the documentary. His most surprising moment, he said, came when interviewing Yuval Diskin, every inch an army officer and master spy, who served as Shin Bet’s head from 2005 to 2011.
Moreh asked Diskin for his reaction to a quote from Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a far-left academic, asserting that Israel’s control over the West Bank will lead to the Jewish state’s inexorable moral corruption.
Moreh said he was astonished when Diskin nodded in agreement, saying, “Every word is [written] in stone.”
Imagine an equivalent film made in America, where six former FBI and CIA directors face the cameras and denounce the policies of the presidents who appointed them.
Moreh’s own dismay is of a different nature. He asked a reporter why American Jews, who, like Israelis, belong “to the most opinionated race on earth,” don’t criticize Israeli policies more.
Moreh, 51 and a muscular 6-foot-2, served in the first Lebanon War in the early 1980s and describes himself as a “political centrist.”
His interviews for the film, he said, left him depressed about the future of Israel, what he sees as the country’s lack of political leadership, and the growing strength of Israel’s extreme right. “Most of the crazies,” he added, “come from the United States.”
“Gatekeepers” was made on a budget of $1.5 million, a hefty sum for an Israeli production, of which 10 percent came from the government-funded Israel Film Council.
Emad Burnat, the cameraman, narrator and co-director of “5 Broken Cameras,” lives in a world far removed from the well-educated, commanding Shin Bet chiefs of “Gatekeepers.”
He is a Palestinian farmer whose family has cultivated the land of Bi’lin, a village of 1,900 inhabitants just east of the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank.
When his fourth son, Gibreel, is born in 2005, he gets a video camera to record the boy’s infancy and childhood and the surrounding village life.
At about the same time, the religious settlement of Modi’in Illit, overlooking Bi’lin, goes up, protected by a fence barring the villagers from much of their own farmland and olive groves.
The villagers respond with a campaign of nonviolent resistance, marked each Friday by demonstrations that are part protest march and part street theater.
Israeli soldiers are called in to prevent the villagers from marching on the settlement, which escalates the confrontation into opposing volleys, as the villagers throw stones and the soldiers respond with tear gas grenades.
The Israeli Supreme Court eventually rules that the fence must be moved away from Bi’lin and closer to the settlement, restoring much of the arable land to the farmers, but it takes years to enforce the court decision.
Burnat, an amateur photographer, and his camera are ever-present in the thick of all this, to the annoyance of the soldiers. Although some blood is spilled later, the initial casualties are his cameras, which get smashed, replaced and smashed again.
Five cameras go down, but the sixth is still doing duty today, Burnat said by phone from Bi’lin.
Everywhere he goes, Burnat brings along his growing son, the wide-eyed Gibreel, and the scenes between the two, and with Burnat’s wife, lend a homey charm to “Cameras.”
In one domestic scene, Burnat’s wife upbraids him for endangering the family’s safety with his constant filming of confrontations. Asked for his reaction during the interview, Burnat bravely answered, “I never listen to my wife. I was on a mission to film the village struggle.”
Among the sympathizers from Israel and other countries who joined the Bi’lin protesters was Guy Davidi, a Tel Aviv filmmaker, who befriended Burnat and his family.
Two years ago, Burnat showed his huge cache of video footage to Davidi, with the idea of fashioning it into a documentary. Davidi signed on as co-director and producer, raising $334,000, including $120,000 from Israeli government and private sources.
From inception to Oscar nomination, the history of “5 Broken Cameras” reads like an unalloyed success story, but it wouldn’t be the Middle East if some conflict didn’t roil the waters.
What happened is this: When it was announced that these two documentaries had qualified for the Oscar finals, some Israeli and U.S. Jewish media proudly headlined their reports as an unprecedented feat by “two Israeli films.”
That claim justifiably angered Burnat, opened him to criticism from his Palestinian compatriots and led to an instant boycott of the film in Arab countries.
Burnat, who has also taught himself English, Hebrew and Portuguese (his wife was born in Brazil), protested during the interview, “This is a Palestinian film. It’s about my village, and mine is the major contribution.”
Actually, the reality is a bit more complex. Under Academy Award rules, documentaries are not entered by countries (as is the case for foreign-language feature movies), but by individual filmmakers and their distributors. For instance, documentary features are usually submitted by a number of different American filmmakers.
So, “Cameras” is officially labeled as a Palestinian-Israeli-French co-production, and Davidi acknowledged that the “two Israeli films” headlines misleadingly “erased Burnat’s personality.”
Still, the controversy has left a bitter aftertaste, especially for Burnat.
“Cameras” also illustrates one other point. As in most other films by Palestinians, Israeli characters may be depicted as unwelcome interlopers, but they are not made into monsters or Nazis.
Thus, the Israeli soldiers in “Cameras” do not seem to enjoy facing civilians; they do not insult them, and in a semi-comic scene, soldiers trying to enter a Palestinian home are pushed out by the angry women inside.
Ironically, highly negative portrayals of Israelis appear more often in self-lacerating Israeli-made movies than in Palestinian ones.
Davidi offered one explanation for this oddity. “Many of the West Bank Palestinians have worked in Israel as construction workers, gardeners and so forth. They speak our language and know more about us than we know about them. Even if they hate us, they understand something about the complexity of our society.”
“Gatekeepers” and “Cameras” are up against some stiff competition by the other three contenders. However, both Burnat and Davidi said they would attend the award ceremonies in Hollywood on Feb. 24 — even if they have to wear tuxedos.
There will be a sneak preview of “The Gatekeepers” on Jan. 27 at 10 a.m. at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Former Shin Bet head Carmi Gillon will participate in a Q&A session, moderated by Jewish Journal President David Suissa. Tickets to the event, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and the Journal, are free, but reservations are required at http://lajfilmfest.org or (800) 838-3006.
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.”
October 31, 2012 | 5:05 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
The Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Zubin Mehta gave an audience of more than 2,200 at Disney Hall an evening to remember.
At Tuesday evening’s (10/30) concert, the stirring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, the often mangled national anthems, opened the program of Schubert, Chopin and Brahms with an infusion of adrenalin.
Yuja Wang, the striking young Chinese pianist, was brilliant in Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, and the standing ovations –- by now a mandatory LA exercise in even the most mediocre performances – were fully merited.
However, for those who weren’t there and get their information from the Los Angeles Times, it was all about a handful of protesters who show up regularly at such events to vent their outrage at “Israeli Apartheid” and victimization of Palestinians.
On the day of the concert, the Culture Monster column at latimes.com predicted a “colorful outdoor demonstration” and “street theater protests” by an expected 35-50 activists to slam the “apartheid nation.”
In Wednesday’s Times, the event merited a four-column picture of two women protesters, holding large cut-out instruments, who, according to the caption, “sought to raise awareness about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”
On the ground, the actual scene was rather less colorful. When my wife and I arrived about 15 minutes before the concert, we saw somewhere between six to ten protesters, with one holding an “Israel Apartheid” placard.
The hundreds of concert goers streaming into the hall paid no noticeable attention to the small group, whose members however perked up and responded vigorously when one patron suggested they turn their humanitarian impulses toward the thousands of Muslims being killed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Mali and so forth.
Now some readers will see The Times’ coverage as another example of the media’s anti-Israel bias, but I don’t buy that.
Indeed, I have spent a good deal of my life as a journalist arguing with pro-Israel “everybody-is-against-us” proponents, who are certain that the editors of the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. spend their time figuring out how to put down the Jewish state.
My counter-argument is that what appears to the fervent advocate of any cause as malign media bias is mostly due to the working realities of journalism – time pressure, space limitation, occasional laziness or incompetence, but foremost, the drive for lively enough writing and photos to catch the busy reader’s attention, often at the sacrifice subtler or duller points.
After a lifetime of working on newspapers, wire services and magazines – mostly good, some mediocre – I believe that the large majority of journalists try to give readers a fair, factual account, be it about a traffic accident, civic corruption or a political speech.
There are exceptions, of course, especially among reporters working for the kind of glossy, celebrity-crazed magazine found at supermarket checkout stands or the run of radio and television bloviators.
More to the point is the following experience. Over the decades, there hasn’t been one LA Times foreign correspondent stationed in Israel, who hasn’t been damned by many of my fellow Jews as completely biased, if not outright anti-Semitic.
On occasions, I have talked to different directors of the Israel Government Press Office, who deal daily with foreign correspondents, and mentioned the back-home criticism of this or that Times reporter.
Usually I get a surprised look from the official and words like, “What, you don’t mean him? We don’t always like what he has to say, but he is one of the fairest reporters around.”
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 13, 2012 | 11:25 am
Posted by Tom Tugend