In an interview with Joshua Oppenheimer in this week’s Forward (Filming the Killing Fields), reporter Sheerly Avni asks why the director chose to focus on the killers instead of the victims in his new film, “Act of Killing,” about the massacres in Indonesia in 1965:
Oppenheimer: “….I think the tradition of documentary films is that we talk about victims to feel good about ourselves, and to deny the fact that we are much closer to perpetrators than we realize.”
Avni, after establishing that the Oppenheimer nuclear family managed to escape from Germany though extended family members perished in the holocaust:
“Even if we ourselves are victims, or the descendants of victims?”
Oppenheimer: “….So certainly this was the defining political and moral question of my upbringing: ‘how do we stop this from happening again?”
Avni: “Never can mean two things - it can mean ‘never again period.’ Or it can mean ‘never again to us.”
Oppenheimer: “Yes, and that’s the tragedy of the Middle East. It has become never again to us. It is a great shame for me, as a Jew and as a person, that we can have a historical lesson like the holocaust, and yet we don’t learn. What stories were we telling ourselves as Jews that made it acceptable, just three years afterwards, to commit acts of ethnic cleansing? Which is, I’m sorry, what the foundation of the state of Israel was.”
Avni: “But don’t we have to defend ourselves against our enemies?”
Oppenheimer: “….The tragedy of at least one of the dominant narratives by which we as Jews have imagined ourselves, post-Holocaust is this: We are victims, and therefore we think we have the right to be perpetrators.”
Where to begin? With the confusing title of the article that conflates the commonly understood “killing fields of Cambodia” with a totally separate event in Indonesia? With the moral equivalence by the 37 year old director of the war between Israel and the Arab states with the holocaust? With the notion that refugees of any war, and particularly one in which Arabs were urged to leave their homes by their own leaders in order to expedite their expected victory, are analogous to the 6 millions Jews, citizens of every country in Europe, who were rounded up, transported to camps and methodically starved, tortured, shot and gassed over an extended period of time? With the accusation of ethnic cleansing applied to the only state in the middle east in which Palestinians are citizens who serve in the government, the judiciary and every other aspect of Israeli life? With the obvious ignorance of Oppenheimer about the history of Zionism and the history of Muslim anti-semitism and the collaboration of the Grand Mufti with the Nazis? With the omission by Mr Oppenheimer of the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and the appropriation of all their good and properties?
What lessons have we taught our children about world history that this is what a graduate of Harvard, a recipient of a Marshall Scholarship and a PhD constructs as his personal narrative? Considering Oppenheimer’s illustrious educational background, it is even more inexcusable that he wasn’t challenged by an interviewer with a command of historical facts concerning the founding of Israel and the notion that Israel is the perpetrator in the ongoing cycle of Muslim wars and violent attacks against Jews throughout the Middle East, Europe, North and South America. Instead, Avni heralds the filmmaker and the Forward offers him a forum for his perverse views on Israel’s founding - opinions shared by Noam Chomsky, Tony Kushner and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Considering the escalating threats against Israel on all sides, the rousing endorsement by numerous American Rabbis for the UN resolution upgrading the Palestinians to a non-member observer state, the support of many American Jewish leaders for the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of State and the convictions of Jews like Joshua Oppenheimer, Israel’s enemies have already been handed half the battle won.
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