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WILL THEY GIVE OSCARS FOR BASHING ISRAEL? LORI LOWENTHAL MARCUS
Two of the five films nominated for Best Documentary by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year are Israeli films. Let’s hope one of the other films wins.
Missing a Chance at Greatness
A riveting examination of Israeli counterterrorism, The Gatekeepers stacks the deck, denying viewers their own judgment.
Zero Dark Thirty is not the only Academy Award–nominated film that raises profound moral questions about how democracies can strike back at terrorism without abandoning their own liberal values. Also up for an award this year is The Gatekeepers, a searing documentary in Hebrew with English subtitles, featuring revealing interviews with six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, who testify about the methods they used in combating Palestinian terrorism.
Civil libertarians and some liberal politicians have excoriated Zero Dark Thirty’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, and screenwriter, Mark Boal, for purportedly justifying torture of captured al-Qaida operatives as a means of extracting leads that might have led to finding Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Pakistan. Because the movie seems to suggest that “torture works,” says Senator Dianne Feinstein, it “has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner.” (Michael Totten has written a vigorous defense of Bigelow.)
The Gatekeepers, on the other hand, has won praise from liberal critics, here and in Israel, for arguing that Israel is in danger of “losing its soul,” and its democracy, because it employs similar brutal methods against Palestinian terrorists. The film’s director, Dror Moreh, is a 40-something Jerusalemite who previously made a well-received documentary about former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw the Israeli army and uproot Jewish settlements from Gaza. For The Gatekeepers, Moreh was able to convince the six Shin Bet chiefs to spill their guts about the measures they authorized to combat Palestinian suicide terrorism. They’re also asked whether these operations contributed to a solution of the conflict. Their collective answer, in one word, is no.
It may seem astonishing to non-Israelis that former spy chiefs in that security-obsessed country would be willing, or even allowed, to reveal undercover operations they directed and to criticize government policies publicly. In fact, such outspoken criticism from Israeli security officials is hardly unprecedented. In 2003, four of the same ex–Shin Bet chiefs publicly warned Sharon’s government that its harsh policies in the Palestinian territories were leading the country to “near-catastrophe.” Partly because of their warning, Sharon eventually decided to withdraw troops from Gaza.