It seems that history was made recently at the United Nations. No, China was not kicked off the Human Rights Council (though, inexplicably, Libya was). And no, Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has not been disinvited from his annual anti-Semitic tirade and raspberry-blowing fest. And no new canapés have been introduced at UN receptions.
The history I refer to is the recent screening of the Julian Schnabel film “Miral” at the United Nations General Assembly.
The UN is not the usual venue for a feature film to debut. That’s because it’s a policy-making body, and not Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto. And while it seems that documentaries (i.e. based on fact) are occasionally screened, feature films (i.e. based on fiction, imagination, or anecdote) are not.
And as feature films go, this one would not seem the likeliest to be chosen. It was panned by English and Italian critics who found it shallow, stilted, and just another hackneyed vehicle for demonizing of Israel. Focusing as it does on a young Palestinian Arab girl who grows up in an orphanage, becomes a teacher in a refugee camp, and falls in love with a terrorist, it would not seem to be the most dispassionate tale one could imagine.
I’m not taking issue with a Jewish producer making a movie about a book he enjoyed by an Arab woman he’s romantically involved with. I’m not even taking issue with the fact that it may or may not be bald-faced Palestinian propaganda. Such a film, whether or not it has merit, should be allowed to be screened in appropriate venues and judged on its own merits. I also support the rights of people who claim it is Palestinian propaganda to protest its screening, expose any lies in the film, and to call it a dog of a film if that’s what it is.
But what I do take issue with is the UN as an appropriate venue for this kind of film. Films that are intended to educate, report facts, enlighten, and provide historical background, are all worthy of being screened to a body which should concern itself with reality rather than imagination. On the other hand, films that are attempts to appeal to emotions, reinforce (dubious) conventional wisdom, or provide catharsis for the viewer, are inappropriate to be shown at the UN.
GA president Joseph Deiss was reported to like the film “and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long.” This is revealing on a number of points. First, the desire to spark discussion on a topic which has been discussed and discussed until the discussants are blue in the mouth seems to me more like beating a dead horse than contributing to any solutions. And the fact that the issue “has gone on for so long” is also telling. The UN itself, through the UNRWA, has administered the very refugee camps that are featured in the film, places where in reality, extremism, violence, and hatred of Jews fester and are indoctrinated into generations of young Arabs. The UN itself has done more than any other body to prolong this conflict by perpetuating the refugee camps instead of doing what they were set up to do, which is to resettle the refugees and enable them to build whole lives for themselves. Over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands descended on Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, and sixty years (and no UN aid) later, they are fully integrated in Israeli society. The UN High Commissioner on Refugees has operated many large-scale refugee resettlement programs, enabling an estimated 50 million refugees to restart their lives. Yet under the UNRWA (created specially to administer the Palestinian Arab refugees), between 520,000 and 800,000 Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict have not been resettled in over 60 years, even on an annual operating budget of well over $500 million (source). If anything, showing a film like this should embarrass the UN, and the discussion it sparks should be one which questions the UN mandate itself.
If the UN wants to make peace in the Middle East, it needs to stop perpetuating the conflict through its own neglect and bloated, protectionist bureaucracy. If it wants to make peace, it needs to stop fomenting the political divisions that are so entrenched in its own structure (the automatic majority comes to mind). If it wants to fix this problem and get it off its desk (which seems to be a high priority throughout the West), it would do well to look at what really exists here, and not at the “art” of a scruffy Jewish American who shows up to premieres in his pajamas and hobnobs with celebrity “activists” and self-promoting Hollywood executives.
I read recently that Canadian journalist Robert Fulford is credited with saying that conspiracy theories are “history for stupid people.” Looking at the behavior of the UN General Assembly these days, it seems that Hollywood feature films are history for international diplomats.