I am not an avid movie fan but on Oscar night I told my friends, for once, that I had a dog in this fight, i.e., the awards. The dog was “The Gatekeepers,” a film that I assume most readers of this blog are familiar with, but if you aren’t, there are any number of articles available on it, such as by Shlomi Eldar in al-Monitor and in The New Yorker. And it’s probably coming to a (commercial!) theater near you as well.
I think Gatekeepers has the potential to be a game-changer to some degree, and those of us who have been arguing for years (or decades) that Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is steadily and invidiously destroying the country can take some bleak comfort in that. In Gatekeepers, statement after statement by the six latest directors of the Shabak (aka Shin Bet) show that Israel’s policies have failed utterly in their ostensible primary goal, which should be assuring the long-term security of Israel. They prove that these policies have been primarily counter-productive, and that Israel’s strategy in the West Bank and Gaza has been at best futile, or, more correctly, non-existent, just reactive.
But we’ve known this for years. What is new? It’s not new that Israeli generals criticize Israel’s policies once they take off their uniforms. From Matti Peled, an Israeli general during the Six Day War who became a radical peace activist, to Yehoshofat Harkabi, the former head of military intelligence who assured Israel in the 1980s that the PLO was truly changing, to the hundreds of members of the Council on Peace and Security, all retired high-ranking security officials, who have campaigned for years for fundamental change in policy. Or Ephraim Halevy, a former head of the Mossad, whose articles regularly show the futility of many of the security establishment’s most cherished shibboleths. Why is this different?
Director Dror Moreh provides the answer in the name of his film. These six men truly stood at the gate; they were the ones who directed Israel’s primary –usually covert and frequently brutal – weapons of occupation. The Shabaknikim studied the Palestinian territories intimately in order to infiltrate Palestinian organizations, recruit informants, prevent attacks and, more recently, to direct assassinations. They saw it all, and kept trying the same strategies, which failed. No one else had as comprehensive a view — certainly not their political masters in the successive governments they served. And there is strength in numbers; all six surviving ex-directors participated in this film.
In my view, it will be appreciably harder for anyone to make a liberal argument to support these policies after seeing Gatekeepers. Any fair-minded person who is intellectually honest will have to leave the film with serious questions about what s/he has believed. Are these six men brainwashed? Are they senile? How can they unanimously cut the ground out from under Israel’s most unquestioned assumptions? Or, most frightening of all, are they right in their criticisms, and Israel’s democracy and morality are eroding, and have been for decades?
Of course many will try, nevertheless. For months I have been watching for rightwing commentary on the film and have seen very little, other than an article in the Jerusalem Post, and a comment by Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has no intention of seeing it, (obviously the safest way to avoid engaging with it). The Jerusalem Post article simply sidesteps the question of what got into these men by blaming the director for not including the whole conflict, and only showing what’s wrong with Israel, a slick but intellectually dishonest argument. Of course, the film never claims that Palestinians are angels; its focus is on how Israel engages with them.
Readers who have seen other rightwing commentary are cordially invited to provide links to them in comments to this blog post.
It is presumably simply coincidental that Gatekeepers became visible just as the atrocious attacks on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense became widespread. These attacks are notable because they emanated primarily from the far right. The usual organizations that make it their business to attack those they deem not sufficiently friendly to Israel – such as AIPAC, the AJC, and other establishment Jewish organizations – were either publicly silent or limited themselves to low-voiced muttering. Instead, extremist organizations – and most of the Republican party – turned ostensible support for Israel into a purely partisan agenda. Liberal Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer – historically Israel’s strongest American allies – ended up supporting Hagel.
I think both this film and the anti-Hagel campaign may be symptoms of a tipping point, in which unqualified support for Netanyahu-like policies will be increasingly the province of the far right and the Republican Party, organizations which do not include the vast majority of American Jews. Not that American Jews will cease to support Israel. Rather, their support will become more nuanced, and more in tune with their values and opinions on other matters. Of course, some may drop out. But I think anyone who honestly wants to square liberal values with unqualified support for Israeli policy will have a much harder time doing so after seeing this film.
So, instead of arguing with your friends and family about Israel, take them to see Gatekeepers. Then ask them if they really do know more than the directors of the Shabak.
More links to negative reviews are welcome.
P.S. A friend provided a link to a negative review of ‘Gatekeepers’ that appeared at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4348449,00.html
In my view the argument is breathtakingly nonsensical; i.e., that the Shabak directors suffer from some sort of reverse Stockholm syndrome. If that’s the best attack its opponents can come up with, then the film is even more powerful than I thought.
More links to negative reviews are welcome.
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Re: << .. their support will become more nuanced, and more in tune with their values and opinions on other matters … >>
I’m looking forward to seeing Gatekeepers; I’ve read a number of reviews, Paul’s being the most recent. What I find difficult to understand is why this seems to have had so little influence on political policy.
Dear Saba Aron,
It will be harder to sway opinion in Israel than here but I think it will have an effect. Below is a report from a listserve I’m on about some positive effects.
“A few weeks ago I asked a family member whom he voted for in the Israeli elections. He has been right of center while I was a “bleeding liberal.”
This time he voted for Lapid. Why? They saw the movie “the Gatekeepers” just a few days before the elections and it left some deep thoughts.”