Will Oscar Give Israel a Black Eye?

If a completed picture is worth a thousand words, how much does a one-sided movie cost? The Israeli films “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” earned two of the five 2013 Oscar nominations for documentary films.

Although ten Israeli films have received nominations in the past, these two are different: they focus the spotlight on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a distinctly anti-Israel perspective.

Saying that the nominated films air “Israel’s dirty laundry,” The Daily Jewish Forward’s J. J. Goldberg suggested that a win for either one at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, February 24th ”would be a tribute to Israeli art, but a black eye for Israel,” said Goldberg. The depictions of the “warts” of Israel reflected “what’s on Israelis’ minds.” 

And presumably, liberal Hollywood is tickled to celebrate Israeli films critical of Israel. 

“5 Broken Cameras” captured the struggle of Palestinians against the Israeli Defense Force encroaching upon their land in the West Bank town of Bi’lin. While an Israeli, Guy Davidi, edited the film, the video came from a Bi’lin farmer, Emad Burnat, and had no Israeli perspective whatsoever.

However, “The Gatekeepers,” directed by Dror Moreh, was more thoughtful and thus more detrimental to Israel, according to Goldberg. The film featured six former leaders of Israel’s counterterrorism agency, the Shin Bet, “freely admitting abuse” and attacking the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Director and Co-Founder of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies Corinne Sauer found the bright side, telling CMI that the documentaries illustrated that Israel is an open society. “The fact that those two Israelis movies were made is another proof that Israel is a democratic state; the only true democracy in the Middle East,” she said. “I don't believe that any of our neighbors would have allowed such movies to be made nor shown and they would have used all their power to censure their showings.”

“The Gatekeepers” director Dror Moreh admitted the film was “controversial” and expected a reaction, “I think that for Jews, it’s not an easy film to watch,” he said. “It brings out emotions because, outside of Israel, Jews have the tendency to support Israel, whatever it does… We tend to do that, especially in the United States.” “5 Broken Cameras” director, Davidi, reasoned that his film offered an alternative perspective to an international audience, “I don’t remember seeing movies about the lives and struggles of Palestinians, but times have changed … The world can see the truth.”

In stark contrast, members of the Almagor Terror Victims Association of Israel, an organization representing Israeli victims of Palestinian terror, criticized both films. In a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the terror victims summarized their perspective on the movies:

1. "The Gatekeepers", a politically-motivated and one-sided film attacking the current Israeli policy of remaining in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) despite the historical and security reasons for doing so, or

2. "Five Broken Cameras", a film meant to incite, that demonizes the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and contains anti-Semitic elements.

Additional opposition arose from Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari, heads of the Otzma LeYisrael nationalist political party, who found the nominee picks devious – or, in other words, as “two Palestinian propaganda films disguised as Israeli documentaries."

Sauer noted that the documentaries appeal to a certain audience, and explained, “The message they try to convey is the usual Israel bashing that the extreme left in Israel and the main stream left in Europe and the US loves to hear and see.” 

Sauer acknowledged the films “have a strong political message, are both very much one sided and both of them made no efforts to somehow balance the arguments.” 

But “Israel is a free country so it is in their right to do so.” She concluded, “I hope one day, the Oscars will discover movies showing the other side of the coin … it will then show that their choices are made on cinematographic virtues and not on [a] pure political one.”

Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center