Whoopty do – the ostensibly uplifting news is that our attorney-general has at long last made a pro forma move against a libel of particularly monstrous ramifications. Talk about too little too late! It took him a long time, and Menahem Mazuz has managed the grudging gesture literally only days before his six-year term ends.
It was by way of a consolation prize that he decided to support an appeal to the Supreme Court by combat soldiers and bereaved families against Israeli-Arab director Muhammad Bakri for his slanderous 2002 film Jenin, Jenin. Mazuz’s announced intention to attend the hearing was meant to sweeten the pill of his refusal to indict Bakri for libel, as the Central Region District Court suggested he should in 2008.
For those who don’t recall, here’s a brief recap: Directly after the 2002 Pessah Seder carnage at Netanya’s Park Hotel, the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield, which spawned whopping falsehoods about war crimes by soldiers in Jenin. Bakri’s pseudo-documentary was instrumental in propagating these falsehoods. After our ever-solicitous Supreme Court unanimously permitted local cinematheque screenings of Bakri’s creation in 2003, soldiers and families of fallen fighters sued him for libel. The district court accepted thatJenin, Jenin was defamatory, but argued that the state, not individuals, should take legal action. Mazuz refuses to prosecute on behalf of the state, though he has magnanimously offered to side with the plaintiffs in their appeal against the lower court ruling.
The upshot is that the aggrieved soldiers, who put their lives on the line for us all – along with the kin of those soldiers who indeed gave their lives in Jenin – are turned into veritable footballs. The district judge and Mazuz agree that Jenin, Jenin is nothing but a smear job. Yet while the former insists this isn’t a matter of private grievances, the latter maintains it can only be litigated as a private complaint.
AND SO the football is kicked back to the very same Supreme Court which had already sanctioned the travesty, despite also noting that it’s a pack of lies. In all likelihood, then, Bakri has nothing to fear from our champions of justice. As H.L. Mencken remarked long ago: “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels.”
To fathom the preposterousness of the situation, imagine a locally produced, full-length documentary which equates Jews with filthy rats scurrying from sewers to spread disease, infest their surroundings and overrun the world. One might plausibly expect that the Israeli public, save for exceptionally avant-garde post-Zionists, would be outraged. It’s safe to assume that the Israel Film Board would object to its screening. It’s a sure bet that the producer would seek succor from the Jewish state’s Supreme Court.
Sadly, it’s also a dead certainty that the highest echelons of Israeli jurisprudence would obligingly help in the hallowed name of freedom of expression – as they did with Bakri and his cinematic calumny in 2003.
NO, BAKRI didn’t produce the above-alluded-to Eternal Jew. That scurrilous celluloid contamination was the personal pet project of Josef Goebbels in 1940 Germany. But if Goebbels’s offering were of present-day vintage, our judicial system would doubtless not have stood in his way. It would have stressed that it’s up to us viewers to make our choices.
In the best of all worlds, it’d be so. But given the imperfections of our existence, Goebbels accurately deduced that “the essence of propaganda consists of winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape it.”
Bakri is a devoted disciple of the Third Reich’s brainwashing master. In his purported documentation of the massacre-that-never-was, Bakri employs his Nazi mentor’s techniques, like juxtaposing disconnected clips. He weaves in shots of IDF tanks on the move. In the following frames lots of civilians lie motionless on the same road. They look dead, viciously run over. It’s as stage-managed a hoax as Goebbels’s vermin on the loose. No less revolting. No less effective. Bakri transported Nazism’s proverbial rats to Jenin.
Clueless audiences aren’t likely to ponder whether the absence of physical evidence calls into question Bakri’s assertions that a hospital was deliberately shelled or children mercilessly executed. In fact, these are cynical figments of Bakri’s libelous imagination, in the worst Goebbels tradition.
ALL THAT was irrelevant for our esteemed Supreme Court justices more than six years ago, and is unlikely to move today’s Supreme Court panel. A host of legalistic mumbo-jumbo will explain why maligning must be countenanced, and why it’s up to filmgoers to ferret out the truth, even if truth isn’t coolest in their relativist milieu.
While the justices first quibbled about Jenin Jenin, another widely acclaimed IDF-bashing “documentary,” Ford Transit, directed by Nazareth-born Hany Abu-Assad, earned the Jerusalem Film Festival’s “Freedom Spirit” award and accolades from the American Sundance, Canadian Hotdocs and Dutch IDFA festivals. No doubt its demonizing portrayal of Israeli villainy at military roadblocks is probably what made it so de rigueur.
Neither prizes nor praise were withdrawn when it emerged that the ostensibly genuine driver, whose sordid story of mistreatment at Jewish hands constitutes the central theme, was an actor hired to play a scripted role. The scene in which he’s brutally beaten by a soldier was performed per the director’s meticulous instructions.
This was nevertheless marketed as a documentary and, as in Bakri’s case, viewers weren’t likely to investigate – no more than Goebbels’s moviegoers were prone to probe the rodent-Jew analogy. That’s what makes malicious hate productions so dangerous and so ideal a tool both for yesteryear’s Nazis and their fanatical Mideastern torchbearers. That’s what makes the complicity of those who condone such fraud all the more alarming.
DIRECTOR YIGAL Burstein suggested years back that the cogent issue isn’t veracity but “only whether the film works and sways the audience.” Goebbels would wholeheartedly concur. So would Bakri. The dreadful shame of it is that our Supreme Court – evidently unable to pass up any opportunity for potshots at self-preservation, common sense and the tattered remains of the public’s trust in its judgment – upholds the right to disseminate malevolent vilification, amplify enmity, justify terrorism and invite bloodshed.
Perhaps Mencken was reasonable to remark that “a judge is a law student who marks his own exam papers.” Such “students” deserve a private showing of The Eternal Jew, which concludes with the Fuehrer’s spine-chilling prediction to the Reichstag that “if the Jews succeed once more in starting a world war, it will be the end of world Jewry.”
That was the inflammatory purpose of the odious Goebbels-sponsored film – to prepare the ground for mass murder by convincing international opinion and potential perpetrators that Jews bring the most radical of punishments upon themselves.
That was Goebbels’s point, and Abu-Asad’s, and Bakri’s