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Israel’s ‘Ajami’ and Jewish-Themed Films Lose Out at Oscars

Israel’s half-century jinx at the Oscars continued Sunday night, as “Ajami” was passed over for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

A gritty film about the Jewish-Arab tensions in the mixed quarter of Jaffa, “Ajami” was beaten out by Argentina’s entry, “The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos),” directed by Juan José Campanell.

Three Jewish-themed films vying for the Best Picture nod — “Inglourious Basterds,” “A Serious Man” and “An Education” — also missed out. And Quentin Tarantino lost in the directing category, despite high praise for “Inglourious Basterds,” a brutal counterfactual fantasy in which Jews soldiers scalp German soldiers and assassinate Nazi leasders.

“Ajami” was a joint production by two young Israeli filmmakers, Scandor Copti, a Christian Arab, and Yaron Shani, a Jew. It was Israel’s biggest box-office hit of the year.

Israel came close to winning the Oscar the last two years, when the Lebanon war-themed films “Beaufort” and “Waltz with Bashir” were considered leading contenders.

“Ajami” paints an unsparing picture of Arab-Jewish and intra-Arab tensions. Copti, a Christian Arab, co-directed the film with another young Israeli, Yaron Shani, who is Jewish.

Just hours before the Oscars ceremony, Copti said he was not representing Israel.

“I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel,” Copti said in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2. “It is an extremely technical thing, that’s how it works in the Oscars. It says ‘Israel’ because the funding comes from Israel. There’s a Palestinian director, an Israeli director, Palestinian actors and Israeli actors. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel.”

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat criticized Copti’s remarks.

“The film ‘Ajami’ was produced and received an Oscar nomination thanks to funds from the State of Israel, which Scandar Copti now tries to renounce,” Livnat said. “Without the state’s support, Copti would not be walking on the red carpet tonight.”

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