Palestinian films designation at Oscars under debate

los angeles | When the controversial film “Paradise Now” is introduced at the Oscar ceremony March 5, the live and television audiences may wonder not just whether it will win, but exactly where it came from.

In the listing by countries of the five nominees for foreign language film honors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives “Paradise Now’s” origin as “Palestine.”

In various academy news releases, the designation has been “Palestinian Authority.”

The final word isn’t in yet, but academy decision makers are “leaning toward” the term “Palestinian Territories,” said John Pavlik, the academy’s director of communications.

As in the Olympic Games, only internationally recognized countries are eligible to enter the foreign language film competition, but this year’s list of 58 entries includes such entities as Hong Kong, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, none of which have universal acceptance.

On the basis of such inclusiveness, the academy two years ago accepted the film “Divine Intervention” as the entry of “Palestine.”

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles has been caught up in the controversy about the film, which explores the motivations and doubts of two would-be suicide bombers assigned to blow up a Tel Aviv bus. Its director, Hany Abu-Assad, and the leading actors are Israeli Arabs.

Yediot Achronot, the Israeli mass-circulation daily, published an article saying that “powerful Israelis and Jews in Hollywood” were pressuring American members of the academy to stop “Paradise Now” from winning an Oscar. It went on to claim that Israeli diplomats had received a commitment from the academy that the film would not be presented as representing the Palestinian state.

The article identified the diplomats as the consul general, Ehud Danoch, and Gilad Millo, consul for media and public affairs. It also cited sources at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem who “condemned attempts to hinder ‘Paradise Now’s’ chances in the Oscars, saying these efforts may tarnish Israel’s international reputation as a state that advocates freedom of speech.”

Millo denied the report.

American Jewish organizations, with few exceptions, have stayed away from the controversy. One reason may be that few persons, Jewish or otherwise, have actually seen the film. Furthermore — politics aside — the film was crowned with a Golden Globe as best foreign film of the year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Neither the Simon Wiesenthal Center nor the Anti-Defamation League, usually quick to react to any anti-Israel slights, have mounted any protests.

One reason for the generally cautious approach by Jewish groups may be the lesson drawn from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” suggested Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reporter Marc Ballon.

Conventional wisdom has it that the persistent attacks on the movie, particularly by the ADL, kept “Passion” in the headlines and contributed to its box office success.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent