A Jew falls in love with a Palestinian: Why ‘Miral’ has everyone up in arms [VIDEO UPDATE]

For this week’s Jewish Journal cover, I expanded upon an earlier post I had written, asking why some Jews were lobbing a fusillade of criticism at the film. Working from my initial thesis—that SOME Jews simply can’t handle anything remotely sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective—I interviewed some of the people who criticized the film, its incendiary screening at the U.N., as well as those who liked the movie and support its message.

Whatever one’s feelings about the film’s politics or even its integrity as a engaging narrative, I believe it deserves to be seen with open eyes and open hearts.

Was it overtly political for this film to screen at the U.N.? Yes. I think there are movies about the conflict that are more balanced and appropriate for the incipient United Nations Film Club. As Rabbi Marvin Hier points out in my story, the U.N. could have screened two contrasting films representing both sides of the conflict. But with respect to Miral, art does not have an obligation to objectivity. This film is NOT a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict; it is the story of one woman’s life. And no, it is not especially nuanced. In fact, I think the lack of context, nuance and the film’s general inability to humanize Israelis is its major weakness; let’s not forget this is the work of a first-time screenwriter, who may have overburdened herself with loyalty to the message rather than the storyline. This is evident in some of the film’s clichés and lack of detail. But if you want to know how the conflict looks from this woman’s point of view—that is, Rula Jebreal’s—see Miral.

Prompted by some of the comments below and reactions to my earlier post, I want to explain why I’ve been writing so much about a “film being panned by critics”. Despite the merits of the movie itself, and despite the reasonable possibility that the filmmakers may have ‘drummed up controversy’ for publicity’s sake, Miral raises important questions about our ability to engage with other points of view. Look at the reaction people are having just on this blog. Perhaps the backlash is not a response to the film itself, but to the idea of the film, and the story behind the film—a Jew could love a Palestinian? a Palestinian could love a Jew?—as well as the convoluted politics that inevitably permeate anything related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No surprise that this is a hot button issue, and yet, something about this film’s very existence is deeply discomfiting to many people—and that’s why I’m writing so much about it.

And now, the story:

Julian Schnabel must have known that screening a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations General Assembly would be scene-stealing. To set the town talking, the event would unite all the trappings — provocative subject matter, prestigious venue, Hollywood glamour.

In fact, the March 14 screening of “Miral” in New York drew a crowd of movie stars, diplomats, artists and intellectuals — Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave,  Ambassadors Jean Kennedy Smith and Qazi Shaukut Fareed, and Dan Rather, among them – raising the profile of an event that openly merged artistic prominence and political power. But when mixed, art and politics — while not exactly strange bedfellows — can stir into a complicated brew. And, sure enough, Schnabel’s screening spawned a flurry of protest from some of the most powerful and prominent voices in the Jewish establishment, who accused the film of being “one-sided” and “anti-Israel.”

The next day, a Los Angeles Times headline declared:  “Screening of ‘Miral’ at the United Nations draws protests from Jewish groups.”

The wave of controversy that ensued called into question whether a high-profile film written by a Palestinian and sympathetic to “the other side” was simply too much for some Jews to handle. That the filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, is Jewish and presenting a perspective counter to the dominant Jewish paradigm was considered a tribal and national betrayal. That the film’s distributor, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is a New York Jew, and a vocal supporter of Israel, was even more unsettling. Haven’t the Jews and their State of Israel had it hard enough?

Read the rest here

And now a video blog: