Miral and the UNGA: Not so great moments in Hasbara


Julian Schnabel, who is Jewish, has made a movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, apparently, is sympathetic to the Palestinians.

It is called "Miral" and it is the fictional account of a real orphanage that cared for Palestinians, and one orphan in particular who grows up and finds her love tested in the first Intifada.

The U.N. General Assembly is screening the movie today, ahead of its general release at the end of this month.

When the U.N. General Assembly became a multiplex, I’m not sure, but from what I remember of the place when I staffed it for AP in the late 1990s, the concessions are terrific, and you can smoke — so this could be the start of something big.

The American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International are not as sanguine as I am, however, and want the movie pulled.

B’nai B’rith, which wrote its letter today, references the horrific terrorist attack on Jewish settlers over the weekend:

B’nai B’rith International urges the United Nations to cancel its plans to screen  “Miral,” a film strongly biased in favor of Palestinians in describing the situation in the Middle East. (snip) We ask that you reconsider your decision to host the event this evening.  Going forward with the screening of such a movie, especially in light of recent events, will only further tarnish the reputation of the General Assembly as a place where Israel will not be treated in a fair manner.

The AJC, its letter written Friday, also emphasizes the film’s "one-sidedness."

The film has a clear political message, which portrays Israel in a highly negative light. Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself — and the prestige of his office — with such a blatantly one-sided event.

I hope the UNGA doesn’t pull the film, because the Jewish community here, in the United States, has an undeserved reputation for censoring unflattering views on Israel.

I know this particular case is not about censorship and it is about what the correct use of U.N. bodies is, but now that a screening has been scheduled, asking for it to be pulled smacks of … censorship. And provides fodder to the haters.

Plus, it’s dumb. The film is a fiction. Reading its precis, and knowing Schnabel’s reputation, I want to see it now.

All fiction has a point of view. Fiction without a point of view tends to meander and is, well, boring. Do we really want the backstory of every villain, every antagonist, every peripheral character? Sometimes it helps, most times — please. Imagine having to endure a montage of Bridget O’Shaugnessy’s childhood so we can better understand why she screwed over Sam Spade. Do we need to know what motivates Claude Rains’ Louis, other than that he knows what he sees? And so on.

So the Israelis are the bad guys here. (Maybe — I haven’t seen the movie.) There are plenty of filmed representations of Israel’s point of view.

What about this remedy? Another UNGA screening, of a film that shows Israel’s side.

UPDATE: Great minds, etc. While I was writing this, the ADL released its letter which a) notes that art often has a bias, and that’s fine BUT b) what’s wrong here is that the other side is unrepresented:

It is particularly troubling that through the presidency of the General Assembly you have chosen to sponsor and promote a film with a specific political point of view dealing with the history of a member state without providing an opportunity for a balanced presentation of another film which could have offered an alternative perspective for the consideration of members of the GA and other invited guests

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