Israel Out, Palestine In for Oscar Race

'Bethlehem' and 'Omar' Make First Cut for Foreign Flick

By JTA

Published December 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘Bethlehem’ Trailer from The Playlist on Vimeo.

Israel is out and Palestine is still in the Oscar race, following the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcement of nine semi-finalists in the best foreign-language film category.

Israel’s entry “Bethlehem,” directed by Yuval Adler and winner of Best Film at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, did not make the cut, and the Palestinian film “Omar” by director Hany Abu-Assad was one of the semifinalists.

Both films reflect the intensity of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Omar director Abu-Assad won critical praise for two previous films, “Paradise Now” and “Rana’s Wedding,” in which the Palestinian protagonists did not hide their antagonism toward Israel but the Israeli foes were nevertheless portrayed as recognizable human beings, rather than soulless sadists.

Abu-Assad largely foregoes such balance in “Omar,” in which the title character and the beautiful Nadja pine for each other on opposite side of the Separation Wall, in Israeli terminology, or the Isolation Wall in the Palestinian dictionary.

In the process of jumping the wall and participating in the shooting of an Israeli soldier, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, is caught by Israeli undercover agents, who first torture him and then try to turn him into a collaborator.

Distrusted by the Israelis and reviled as a traitor by his own people, Omar is driven to one last desperate act.

In “Bethlehem,” director Adler and co-writer, Palestinian journalist Ali Waked, draw no moral judgments in the struggle between Shin Bet – the Israeli internal security agency, against Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

This year, a record 76 countries, from Afghanistan to Venezuela, entered their best films. As usual, the choice of nominees by the unpredictable selection committee stunned many professional prognosticators.

Most surprising was the omission of top favorite “The Past” by Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, who won the Academy Award two years ago with “A Separation.” Similarly slighted was the heavily promoted “Wadja,” the first ever submission by Saudi Arabia.

Abu-Assad’s earlier movie, “Paradise Now,” ignited a fierce debate on how to label the sponsoring entity, with the Academy vacillating between “Palestinian Authority,” “Palestinian Territories” and finally “Palestine,” which is how such films are now designatged.

Israeli filmmakers’ record of 10 nominations place Israel among the 10 most nominated countries, though the Israeli film industry has yet to bring home its first Academy Award.

The shortlist of five finalists in the foreign-language and other categories will be announced on Jan. 16. The final winners will hoist their trophies on Oscar Sunday, March 2, in Hollywood.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.