J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, March 30, 2009

RJFF et al: The Case for Israel

Though allowed little more than a cameo appearance in The Man from Plains, the fawning documentary recording Jimmy Carter’s book tour for his incendiary anti-Israel polemic, Prof. Alan Dershowitz still nearly undermined the entire exercise in secular hagiography. While Carter still refuses to debate him, the celebrated jurist is at least granted sufficient time to state his full case in Michael Yohay’s The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost (trailer here), which screens at several Northeastern film festivals in the coming days.

In a provocative opening argument directed squarely at Israel’s detractors on the left, Prof. Dershowitz states unequivocally: “I am pro-Israel not only because I’m a Jew, I am pro-Israel because I am a civil libertarian, because I have devoted my life to fighting for human rights, because I am a feminist, because I’m an environmentalist, because I’m a gay rights supporter, because I’m a lover of peace.” As he rightly implies, Israel is not just the only state in the Middle East which shares all of these ideals—it is the only nation in the region which values any of them.

In his over-riding thesis, Dershowitz argues peace will only be possible when the Palestinians want their own state more than they wish to deny Israel’s right to exist, pointing to lost opportunities for a Palestinian state in 1938, 1948, 1967, and during the infamous 2000-2001 Camp David negotiations. While generally criticizing Carter for willful ignorance and deliberate distortion of the historical record (a charge supported by Prof. Kenneth Stein, the former head of the Carter Center) his most serious question regards what advice, if any, the former president might have volunteered to his good friend Yasser Arafat, just before the PLO strongman reignited the intifada, despite the historic concessions offered by Israel at Camp David. According to Dershowitz, it is a question Carter has steadfastly refused to answer, leading him to conclude the Man from Plains “has blood on his hands—the blood of 4,000 Palestinians, the blood of over 1,000 Israelis.”

Yohay’s film offers a welcome crash course in Israeli history from 1948 through Talba, dispelling many pernicious myths. He calls on several leading figures of Israeli politics, from both sides of the aisle, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni. Some of Dershowitz’s key witnesses make perfect sense, like former Soviet Refusenik Natan Sharansky and Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. However, the appearance of Dennis Ross, the Clinton Administration’s Middle East point man, is a bit of a surprise, considering his years of blind allegiance to Arafat as a supposed partner in peace. (With friends like these . . .)

Outpost clearly illustrates why Dershowitz has been such a successful advocate throughout his career. He marshals the facts into a logical, understandable case, which he cogently argues. When he shows emotion, it is never to obscure the facts, but simply to emphasize his sincerity.

Outpost also happens to be a well produced film, featuring a soundtrack composed by Alon Yavnai, one of the best musicians on the contemporary jazz (and salsa) scenes today, with his frequent collaborator, flutist Amir Milstein. While most of the soundtrack is generally supportive in nature, their themes for the beginning and ending titles are more suggestive of their richly textured music. (For a full representative sample of his music, check out Yavnai’s latest CD, Travel Notes.)

Informative but well paced, Outpost is an accessible corrective to so much misinformation uncritically passed along by the gullible western press. It underscores Israel’s importance, both as an American ally and a nation which shares our democratic principles. In fact, Outpost’s screenings could potentially improve the current level of discourse on Israel and the Middle East. Outpost is available for purchase on its website and it will screen at the Rockland Jewish Film Festival tonight (3/30), the Jewish Film Festival of New Hampshire tomorrow (3/31), the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (4/28), and the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival (5/3).

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