In the Turkish film, "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," former "A-list" American actor Gary Busey plays a Jewish U.S. Army doctor who cuts out organs of Iraqis at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and sells them to wealthy foreign clients. The movie is breaking all box office records in Turkey.
And Busey's gift to the image of Jews and Americans abroad is set to keep on giving. The film, "Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak," in Turkish, is due for release in a dozen Arab and European countries. Its producer is attending the current Berlin International Film Festival to find distributors for the United States, as well as additional markets.
As bad as his character is, Busey is not even the film's arch villain. That honor goes to actor Billy Zane, who plays a rogue American officer who is a self-professed "peacekeeper sent by God." He and his men shoot up an Iraqi wedding party, killing the groom and his little brother in front of their mother and the bride.
Since few people in the United States have heard of the movie, and it hasn't screened here, Jewish organizations have not commented so far. But some conservative columnists, including Debbie Schlussel of FrontPageMagazine.com, have urged Jewish doctors, in a form of occupational solidarity, to refuse medical treatment for Busey or Zane, should the occasion arise.
An Op-Ed piece in the New York Sun characterized the storyline as "'Rambo' as written by Jane Fonda and Michael Moore."
Correspondent Toby Axelrod, who writes for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, was shown the film at a private screening in Berlin on Sunday by executive producer Zubeyr Sasmaz and associate producer Mehmet Canpolat, who expressed considerable concern about the reaction of Jewish viewers.
In a phone call, Axelrod said that she found the movie somewhat chaotic, with lots of rough edges, though some of the acting was quite good.
The Busey character, listed only as The Doctor, is far removed from the Jewish stereotype in both appearance and manner but hardly a credit to Jewish heritage.
At one point, he scolds U.S. soldiers for shooting up the wedding guests "because it ruins their organs." In another scene, a group of apparent organ buyers includes a man clearly dressed as an Orthodox Jew.
Then there is the character played by Zane, Sam William Marshall, a psychopathic Christian fundamentalist who can be kind to an Iraqi one moment and then kill him instantly.
The two producers emphasized to Axelrod that they are against all forms of extremism, regardless of religion, and that "most" of film's script was based on "fact."
Axelrod noted that the film's characters did include both extreme and moderate Muslims and Christians, but no sympathetic Jew appeared to counterbalance the organ-diving doctor.
The film was made well before the current furor in the Muslim world over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. However, "Valley of the Wolves" raises the question whether its hostile representation of Americans and Jews reflects a rise in nationalistic and radical Islamic feelings, even in Turkey, a Muslim nation considered a friend to both the United States and Israel.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, noted that the cutting out of organs from innocent people "wasn't created out of thin air. It is a revival of the ancient blood libel against the Jews." A recent miniseries shown in the Arab world dramatizes modern Jews sacrificing a child for a Passover ritual.
However, a Turkish diplomat, while noting opposition to the war in Iraq and rising nationalism on his country's streets, made a strong case for a more benign interpretation of the film's plot and popularity.
The diplomat, who spoke unofficially to The Journal and did not wish to be identified, mentioned two incidents deeply insulting to patriotic Turks, though unknown or long forgotten by Americans.
One is the 1978 film, "Midnight Express," in which some Americans and Britons are caught trying to leave Turkey with a stash of hashish, thrown into a hellish prison and viciously mistreated. One Turkish newspaper wrote that "'Valley of the Wolves' is our revenge for 'Midnight Express.'"
More recently and more serious is an actual incident that occurred on July 4, 2003, in northern Iraq. Troops from a U.S. airborne brigade raided and ransacked a Turkish special forces headquarters, handcuffed and threw hoods over the heads of 11 officers and held them for two days. The Turkish public, much of which idolizes the nation's soldiers, was outraged and did not accept the U.S. explanation that the 11 officers were mistaken for insurgents because they did not wear uniforms.
"Valley of the Wolves" opens with a dramatization of this incident and then veers into fiction. One of the Turkish officers, unable to bear the shame of the hooding, commits suicide. His farewell letter reaches Polat Alemdar, a legendary Turkish intelligence officer and James Bond-like character, who sets out to avenge the suicide.
In the end, Alemdar and his men track down Zane and his soldiers, and with the help of Iraqi fighters wipe out the Americans in a bloody battle.
At the film's opening gala earlier this month in Istanbul, attended by the Turkish prime minister, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas told the Associated Press that the movie "was very successful ... a soldier's honor must never be damaged."
The U.S. military has taken note, advising its soldiers in Europe to avoid movie theaters screening "Valley of the Wolves," according to Stars & Stripes, which circulates mainly among the military.
The newspaper quotes a memo sent to all Army bases in Europe, telling troops to steer clear of "anything that looks like a protest" at such theaters.
The advisory also urges soldiers "to avoid getting into discussions about the movie with persons you don't know."
Air Force personnel were similarly notified, particularly those stationed at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.
The movie probably owes most of its instant success to the fact that it spins off from a television series of the same name, which has been Turkey's top-rated show for the past three years, the diplomat said. One segment featured Sharon Stone as an American gangster and Andy Garcia.
The TV hero is the same as in the movie, but instead of pursuing Americans, he battles the Turkish mafia and its links with ultranationalist militants and the state intelligence service.
"What makes the film so popular is not the anti-American or anti-Semitic slant, but the hugely successful TV series," the diplomat said. "Even if the protagonist were fighting against radical Islamic terrorists, the movie would have the same success. If there is a 'Valley of the Wolves II,' you shouldn't be surprised if the hero fights against Al Qaeda or hunts down Osama bin Laden."
The U.S. film industry is about to offer "The Da Vinci Code" (starring Tom Hanks) -- its own latest entry into the pantheon of popular entertainments that disseminate malicious depictions of people of a certain faith. In the instance of "The Da Vinci Code," the film disparages a sect of Catholicism. And there was Mel Gibson's hugely successful "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), with its from-the-Bible take on blaming Jews for killing Christ.
Billy Zane has some 77 movie and TV roles to his credit, playing the unpleasant fiancee Cal Hockley in "Titanic" and a neo-Nazi in "The Believer."
In the original "Valley" script given to Zane, his character was considerably less vicious than in the final movie version, according to one source, but for the record the 39-year-old actor released the following statement through his publicist.
"I was fascinated by a compelling character embroiled in a controversial topic that told a story from a different point of view. I will be the first to say that this movie was slanted, heavy-handed, and even harsh. And while I appreciate the healthy debates that accompany these topics, I am an actor who plays an intriguing character, not a political pundit."
Busey, who plays the Jewish doctor selling the harvested organs to rich people in Tel Aviv, New York and London, is a veteran Hollywood actor. His career high was an Academy Award nomination for the title role in 1978 in "The Buddy Holly Story," portraying the early rock 'n' roll idol.
He has had roles in more than 40 movies, starred in the short-lived reality show, "I'm With Busey," and was most recently seen on television's "Into the West."
Busey's talent agency, as listed by the Screen Actors Guild, said that it no longer represents him.
Vickie Roberts, Busey's attorney for the past six years, said that the actor was not giving any interviews but defended her client on constitutional grounds.
"There is something in this country called the First Amendment that protects freedom of expression," she said. "I hope we are not returning to the McCarthy era."
Roberts, who frequently appears as a legal expert on TV shows, such as "Celebrity Justice," added, "If Gary played a rapist in a movie, would anyone believe him to be an actual rapist? He is an actor, not a politician."
When asked about the moral and ethical implications of portraying an anti-Semitic stereotype in a foreign movie, Roberts declined to comment.