The other night, I watched on TV as Israeli film industry luminaries partied at an event in honour of Ari Folman’s documentary, Waltz with Bashir. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got the Oscar?” asked a beaming Channel 2 presenter afterwards.
My answer is that, no, it would not have been great. This film has done enough damage already.
It is by any standards a magnificent piece of art. If Ari Folman had climbed into a time machine, gone back 20 years, and taken a professional cameraman with him into the Lebanon war, he could not have come back with more emotive and meaningful material than what he has recalled from memory. His film is a work of great emotional depth and sensitivity.
However, its glaring omission is that no reason, rhyme or context is given for the war. Although the faces of Israeli friends, soldiers, therapists and politicians are lovingly illustrated in close-up, the enemy being engaged has no name and no face.
The eerie backdrop against which the film plays out is that the enemy hardly exists, or that he is a figment of the Israeli imagination.
Soldiers are cut to pieces by sniper fire, but who are the snipers? Gunmen shoot down from balconies and roofs, but which army or political faction do they represent? Palestinian terrorists are sought in streets, orchards and refugee camps but why are they relevant to Israel, if they are operating in Lebanon?
A viewer knowing nothing of the background could be forgiven for believing that thousands of Israeli soldiers simply woke up one morning and decided to go to Lebanon to kill people. For this reason many Israelis have serious issues with his film and do not think it should be screened.
A friend who saw it at Cinemateque Jerusalem overheard appalled comments at the lack of context. An Australian Christian told me bluntly: “The film confirms for Australians what they already know — Israelis are warmongering murderers.”
This film was up for an Academy Award at a time when virulent hatred of Israel, purposeful omission of the moral and military background to our wars, and a deliberate disregard for our civilians and their safety have begun to flourish. It plays into the hands of the worst of our detractors, depicting us as mindless invaders who care little for human life.
The success of the film can therefore not be wholly attributed to its brilliance as a piece of art.
Many will argue that Folman’s creativity should not be hampered by political and cultural considerations. I say this is nonsense. All of us who function in the adult world have to weigh up the implications of everything we do. None of us are exempt from this arena of human ethics. Not even documentary film directors
Israel is not just fighting a war with Hamas, Hizbollah and, by extension, Iran. It is fighting a war of ideas.
It is a war which is being felt by every European Jewish schoolgirl who is no longer safe coming home on the bus and every American Jewish student coping with hostility and violence on campus.
By the time the next generation of Israeli kids in Folman’s family are considering their options for university, most campuses in Europe will be probably out of bounds to them. And it may only be a few years before Mr. Folman, as an ex-IDF fighter, will be prosecuted for war crimes if he so much as touches down in Britain.
With all due to respect to him as a gifted filmmaker, it would have been better for Folman to deal with his Lebanon ghosts in the psychotherapist’s office. As I have both a son and a daughter serving in the IDF, no one could be more respectful (and more fearful) of the emotional damage done to Mr Folman. But if I could meet him I would ask if the artistic expression of his feelings are worth all the rage and hatred stirred up against Israel as a result.