Two Israel-themed Films Get Oscar Attention

By Anthony Weiss

Published February 03, 2006, issue of February 03, 2006.

With the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections still dominating the headlines, two films on the subject of Israel and terrorism were nominated for Academy Awards this week. Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” was nominated for five Oscars, including best film, best director and best adapted screenplay, while “Paradise Now,” a feature by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, was nominated for best foreign language film.

Both movies have come under criticism for giving what some Jewish critics see as undue consideration to a Palestinian point of view. In last week’s issue of the Forward, an Israeli spokesman criticized “Paradise Now” as “immoral” for giving terror “a human face.”

“Paradise Now,” which won the Golden Globe Award for best foreign film last month, tells the story of two Palestinian friends attempting to carry out a suicide bombing. The Israeli government and several Jewish organizations have accused the film of presenting an overly sympathetic portrayal of the bombers’ motivations. Hours after the nomination, The Israel Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to disseminating information favorable to Israel’s image, sent out a statement by the father of a suicide bombing victim calling the film “an extremely dangerous piece of work.”

The film’s Oscar nomination raised a stir when the film academy declined to list it as representing “Palestine,” as the Golden Globes had done. Instead the academy identified it as representing the Palestinian Authority, over the protests of director Abu-Assad.

Spielberg previously won an Oscar for the much-lauded “Schindler’s List,” a 1993 film on the Holocaust that earned Spielberg a reputation as a spokesman for Jewish causes. The Jewish response to his latest film has been less enthusiastic. “Munich” starts with the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics and then follows the Israeli agents assigned to pursue and assassinate the terrorists, depicting them as wracked by doubts over their mission. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, wrote that the film was “soaked in the sweat of its own evenhandedness.” Others have criticized the screenplay, by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, for relying on the book “Vengeance” by Canadian journalist George Jonas. Israeli officials maintain that Jonas’s main source — an Israeli agent called “Avner,” portrayed by Eric Bana in the film — is a fraud.

In a roundtable interview with Newsweek, Spielberg said he was surprised by some of the criticism: “I knew we were going to receive a volley from the right. I was surprised that we received a much smaller, but no less painful, volley from the left. It made me feel a little more aware of the dogma, and the Luddite position people take any time the Middle East is up for discussion.”

In his remarks, Spielberg defended himself and Kushner, saying: “So many fundamentalists in my own community, the Jewish community, have grown very angry at me for allowing the Palestinians simply to have dialogue and for allowing Tony Kushner to be the author of that dialogue. ‘Munich’ never once attacks Israel, and barely criticizes Israel’s policy of counter-violence against violence. It simply asks a plethora of questions. It’s the most questioning story I’ve ever had the honor to tell.”



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