Dustin Hoffman did not make it to the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s 22nd Annual Media Affairs Gala in Los Angeles this past Saturday night. As reported in The Jewish Press, Hoffman was scheduled to present MPAC’s Media Award to Emad Burnat, the co-director of the Arab Palestinian propaganda film “5 Broken Cameras.”
That film is riddled with half-truths and full omissions, but because it fits the standard Hollywood position of “Israel bad, Arab Palestinians good,” its lack of veracity and documentary standards did not prevent it from being nominated this year for an Academy Award for “Best Documentary.” At least it did not win.
But Dustin Hoffman seemed to be an odd choice as the presenter of the award on behalf of the Muslim Public Affairs Council – he is neither Muslim or Arab, nor is he Middle Eastern. In fact, the only connection between Hoffman and either the movie “5 Broken Cameras” or the Arab-Israeli conflict – which is the topic of the film – is that he is Jewish.
Because Hoffman had – or so the story goes – “contracted a very serious virus,” he did not show up at the Gala Saturday night. Perhaps someone with an actual yiddishe kupf advised Hoffman it may not be the best move of his career to appear in promotional pictures with the MPAC leader, Salam al-Marayati.
That’s because Salam al-Marayati tried to blame the 9/11 attacks on Israel and has lobbied the U.S. government to remove Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from its Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Who knows how pictures of Hoffman at the MPAC Gala might have been used later to boost the legitimacy of MPAC. “See? Dustin Hoffman – and everyone knows he’s a Jew! – loves us, we must be good.”
Hoffman’s taped message of congratulations to Burnat was played at the Gala, and MPAC posted it online. Based on what he says in the brief message, Hoffman appears to have either watched the movie or at least read what it was about. It also appears he made no effort to determine whether the film was a truthful documentary or a mere propaganda film. This is the message Hoffman sent:
Hello, this is Dustin Hoffman. I’m sorry that illness has made it impossible for me to be with you tonight, and that I am compelled to speak to you through this recorded message. I had been looking very forward [SIC] to being the one who, as a fellow artist, would present the award to Emad Burnat and “5 Broken Cameras,” a film he co-directed. It was for me a most powerful, moving and sometimes a very tender film and in it he demonstrates, I think, out of the texture of his own life experience, in the village of Bi’ilin, that his is, indeed, a voice of courage and conscience. Courage and conscience – those are virtues so greatly needed for this troubled and confusing time. Wherever we find them, they should be embraced and celebrated and that’s why I am so thrilled that “5 Broken Cameras” and Emad Burnat are being honored – it is so well deserved. Emad, congratulations, and I hope to see you soon. Thank you.
Courage and conscience? Actually watching the film and making an effort to determine its veracity might warrant such weighty words.
But MPAC and Burnat, both of whom were probably disappointed that their opportunity to have a real live famous Jewish movie star pose for pictures with them, were not deterred. In fact, they had another Jew on hand to present the award. Quoting surah 3, ayahs 113-115, MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati introduced Rabbi Leonard Beerman, to present the award to Burnat.
The 91 year-old Beerman is on the J Street Advisory Council, was on the rabbinic cabinet of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace before it merged with J Street, and in 2009 signed a public letter opposing Israel’s policy in Gaza, which stated, in part,
As human beings, we are shocked and appalled at the mass destruction unleashed by the State of Israel against the people of Gaza in its military operation, following years of Israeli occupation, siege, and deprivation.
As Americans, we protest the carte blanche given Israel by the US government to pursue a war of “national honor,” “restoring deterrence,” “destroying Hamas,” and “searing Israel’s military might into the consciousness of the Gazans.
“My camera is a strong weapon and a strong witness,” Burnat said upon receiving the award.
“We should tell our stories before others hijack them. I got the idea to make this film from one of my friends who said ‘Why don’t you make a film about us, who live here? You know how it is to live under the pressure, under the army, under the occupation.’
“I did this film from my point of view, from my heart, from my mind. I’m very happy because the message was sent to the world, and everybody was shocked and moved by its story.”
No doubt especially shocked were the many members of the Israel Defense Forces who appear in the film which, they claim, was spliced and edited into such a distortion of reality that an organization which represents IDF members and alumni has asked the Israeli Attorney General’s office to bring charges of slander and incitement against the filmmakers.Lori Lowenthal Marcus