Waltzing with Wolves: Rosenthal vs. Goldman on the meaning of the film

An interesting exchange in the pages of PJMedia on the meaning of Waltzing with Bashir, academy-award nominated for best foreign film. First John Rosenthal savages the movie in a twopart article, then Lisa Goldman returned the favor by savaging Rosenthal. Then Rosenthal responded.

Lots of critical themes here, including the meaning of depicting the Israelis engaged in activities that feed the already over-heated imagination of so many around the world.

Comments welcome. Please note if you’ve seen the movie or not. I haven’t yet.

9 Responses to Waltzing with Wolves: Rosenthal vs. Goldman on the meaning of the film

  1. As one who has been in Lebanon and watched the movie, I can say that Rosenthal, his good intentions notwithstanding, loses on all counts. His reply to Lisa is full of incoherent rage and I wonder why it was published at all.

    Being pro-Israeli and being “my country right or wrong” are two different things, and Rosenthal is clearly of the second category. He is reaching in his conclusions.

  2. JD says:

    I have seen the movie.

    It is “about” Israeli complicity for Sabra and Shatilla.

    More, it is about an Israeli man coming to grips not so much with the massacre, but adjusting his memories to the discourse about the massacre. In the end, he seeks not the truth–but he does not know it. The cartoon format helps the irreality imposed.

    Palestinian massacreology goes deep into their national narrative and their foundational myths. They need a reason better than the true one why they left in 1948. Many fled because they assumed the Jews would do to them what the Arab armies would have done to the Jews had they won. Also, there was the enticement of the UNRWA dole earned staying in the so-called “camps”, designated neighborhoods really. Also too, many left because they didn’t want to live under Jews or foreigners. Fine. 100,000s did so after ’67 also. No one suggests massacres made them flee.

    Sabra and Shatilla, like Deir Yassin, Jenin, and so on, are props to validate the national myth of “why.” When the Christians supplied them with Sabra (btw, who says who knows how many actually died there), they concocted Sharon’s complicity. This item in the retinue of Palestinian national myths of massacres became a core belief in Western anti-semitism, for the left, proof of Israeli colonial whatever, for the right, the Jews essential cruelty.

    The writer of “Bashir” doesn’t challenge the faulty discourse, but submerges himself in it. Via cartoon, he is hiding, recreating a reality that might fit with the discourse not because what he remembers, but despite what he remembers.

    It is also another example of a Jewish Israeli not understanding anti-semitism. His false creation of cruelties, for the reason of being “anti-war”, work to validate anti-semitism, because in a collective guilt culture the action of any Jew is the responsibility of all Jews.

    The cartoon is the complete opposite of understanding what really happened. Rather, the author tries to comport his memories with the anti-Israel discourse about what happened. Which includes the over-villainization of Sharon because it gave Western leftists cover to blame a rightist, akin to leftist anti-semites saying they only hate “likudniks”, not Israel itself.

  3. JD says:

    “As one who has been in Lebanon and watched the movie,”

    Were you there during Sabra and Shatilla?

    If so, you might help the author. His reconstructed memories are so weak not only did he construct them in a cartoon, but one with a sense of surrealness and a touch of uncertainty.

    Perhaps those qualities were necessary, because if he took a more documentary approach, he would be more apt to criticism, and inciting the rebukes of Israeli who were there, remember what happened, and need not comport themselves to thinking about it through Palestinian narrative laundered through Western anti-Israel discourse.

  4. oao says:

    one should be always wary of reconstructed memories, because they are usually what one prefers, not necessarily the truth. and everything’s in today’s world is expecting one thing and one thing only about israel. many satisfy that demand.

    the sources of funds are important here. because it is impossible to imagine that they would have funded the project had the memories been not critical of israel.
    it should be assumed that they knew those memories in advance, which raises the likelyhood that the director had already decided on his memories when he applied for funds.

    my take on this is as follows: if the world was in love with israel and interested in all its good aspects and the guy came up with this movie, i would have said there’s a good possibility he’s serious. but in an atmosphere of universal anti-semitic hatred the chance that he either pandered to it or was influenced by it is too great.

    i guess that he simply rode what he perceived to be the wave. there are quite a few israelis in a westernized israel to do this. remember the model (bar?) who dismissed serving in IDF as idiocy when she could make much money in a career?

  5. E.G. says:

    Haven’t and don’t intend to see the film (just maybe if broadcast on ARTE).

    I think Rosenthal’s papers are fine, Goldman’s makes about 1.5 appropriate arguments.

    SnoopyTheGoon, as well as L. Goldman, fail to see the film and it’s message through non-Jewish-Israeli eyes. And that’s one of Roesnthal’s strongest points. The same images evoke different feelings and associations for people immersed in different cultures.

    The funding and distribution part is crucial.

  6. Brenda Brasher says:

    I wonder whether some of those posted on the topic actually saw the same film that I did. The fluidity and plasticity of memory — its instability, its unreliability — is an underlying theme of the film.

    The film takes Israelis seriously as moral subjects, wrestling with and sometimes fractured by the absurd contexts of war.

    My main reservation with the film has to do with the ending, when it turned to the ‘real’. It presented only Palestinians, and presented them only as ‘real’ victims. It ignored the complexity of Palestinian peoples, and the complex reality of Israelis and others involved. (The animated portion of the film did not do this, and is much better for it). But as the ‘real’ turn at the end is quite short, it did not overbalance the rest of the film in my judgment.

    Beyond that, Waltz with Bashir is a powerful anti-war film, and says a lot about the capacity for moral reflection of Israelis.

  7. Richard Landes says:

    i think a basic issue in this debate is the post-modern one of whose eyes does one look through. thus what strikes one person as a profound anti-war, courageously self-critical, highly moral israeli effort, strikes another as confirmation of the most vicious blood libels and a good reason to go to war.

    for those sensitive to the ways that outsiders readily view israelis as murderers of little children, this movie, distributed in europe, is far more likely to trigger the latter response than the former.

    it’s a little like saying that mel gibson’s passion of christ was about how everyone is sinful and in need of forgiveness, rather than that the jews are a nasty brew of sadistic christ killers.

    i’ll say more when i’ve seen the movie.


  8. JD says:

    Take a look at the same artist rewriting history for Gaza (probably worth its own post here):


    Note the imagery about Egypt as not being an independent actor.

  9. oao says:

    RL is probably right. people see what they choose to see, and i think people recover memories that they choose to recover.

    given the funding of the film and the knowledge of how the world sees israel it is hard for me to believe that the director did make an anti-war film and not an anti-israel film. part. given the youtube above.

    Beyond that, Waltz with Bashir is a powerful anti-war film

    if that’s what you choose to see; but are you representative of the intended audience? what is the chance that it’ll be seen like this in the west?

    and how come an anti-war film sees only one victim and not another (lebanese of the plo, israelis), as is almost always the case? did it have anything to do with the funding?

    the point here is: wasn’t there a more accurate way to make an anti-war film, other than pandering to anti-israelism?

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