The Oscar Goes to — Israel's Dirty Laundry

Documentaries Expose Very Different Flaws of Jewish State

Disturbing Documentaries: ‘The Gatekeepers’ is an unnerving movie because it’s not Israel’s enemies who are calling for changes in how the country does business. It’s those at the very heart of the Jewish State’s security apparatus.
Disturbing Documentaries: ‘The Gatekeepers’ is an unnerving movie because it’s not Israel’s enemies who are calling for changes in how the country does business. It’s those at the very heart of the Jewish State’s security apparatus.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 28, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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It’s possible, they say. There is a partner on the other side that’s prepared for peaceful coexistence. Israel tells itself there’s no partner only because its leaders don’t want to give up the territories. They’re barreling toward disaster.

Again, these are not leftist Israel-haters talking. They’re the heads of Israel’s security service, the men tasked with penetrating the Palestinian mind, knowing what to expect and how to respond. That’s why it’s hard to watch. If you’ve spent a lifetime hearing that Israel desires only peace but its enemies are sworn to its destruction, this turns your world upside-down.

How hard is it? Well, I happened to be sitting during the screening with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a man I like and admire. When it was over, you could see the steam coming from his ears. “It’s a piece of propaganda,” he declared.

“I had a dual reaction,” he said afterward. “On one hand, a sense of pride. What other country’s internal security is headed by people who struggle with the moral dimensions, the balance between saving a life and taking a life? On the other hand, it was put in the context of a political struggle against occupation. It almost became a caricature of itself.” It would have been a better movie, he said, if it avoided politics.

He’d have a fair point if that were the film the filmmaker was making. But it wasn’t. The moral anguish was only half the point. The other half was the futility of Israel’s policy in the territories, and the gatekeepers’ belief that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is urgent — and possible.

I wanted to make sure I got that right, so after talking with Foxman I phoned a couple of the security veterans who appear in the film. Did the film accurately reflect their views, I asked, or were they distorted by the filmmaker’s agenda?

“It completely reflects my views,” said Yaakov Peri, who headed the agency from 1988 to 1994. “We discuss these things among ourselves. We all agree.” Peri reminds me, as he’s told me before, that every ex-Mossad chief and most former army chiefs feel the same way.

But wouldn’t the film have been better if it concentrated on moral dilemmas and avoided politics? “If it had, there would have been no point to the film,” said Ami Ayalon, who headed the agency from 1995 to 2000.

“The six of us reached our opinions from different personal backgrounds and different political outlooks, but we’ve all reached the same conclusion,” Ayalon said. “Many Israelis and American Jews want to deny it, but this is our professional opinion. We’re at the edge of an abyss, and if Israeli-Palestinian peace doesn’t progress, it’s the end of Zionism.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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