In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

I don’t know enough about cinematography to judge whether the Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers deserves an Oscar or any other of the many awards it has already received. I suspect, however, that some of the considerations by the juries around the world may be more political than artistic, because the movie does make many important political statements, few of them flattering to those who govern the State of Israel. It’s, therefore, impossible not to see the international awards as further evidence of the growing wave of worldwide castigation of successive Israeli governments.

The documentary itself is extremely critical of the politicians. The six former Israeli security chiefs interviewed don’t seem to have much good to say about those who appointed them and who had been elected to lead the country. Perhaps the only exception is the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.

The reason for his death is a pointer to the alarming prospect that Israel may have reached a stage or soon will be there when it’s no longer possible to make peace with the Palestinians – which, of course, would include making many concessions about borders – without causing something that’s close to civil war and that would also threaten the lives of the politicians who advocate accommodation.

Yet all the six interviewed imply that such accommodation is absolutely vital for the very survival of Israel. Therefore, they all recommend that Israel talk to all, including Hamas and even Iran. Any politician worth his salt and caring for his country should advocate it and take the risk, because that’s the only way forward.

In recalling some of the successes – and the failures – of the actions of the organization of which they were in charge, the security chiefs seem to believe that that’s not the way in the long run for Israel to survive. Fighting terrorism is, of course, absolutely necessary, but it’s woefully insufficient. It’s amoral: morality doesn’t come into it, they say. And it’s ambiguous: “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” Hence this painful question: can an amoral or morally ambiguous Israel exist?

For all its successes, security will also always be inadequate. As hard as the establishment tries to get it right, it cannot but make mistakes and, despite genuine efforts, incur terrible “collateral damage.” Often sheer ignorance gets the better of it. Thus security did all it could to stem the wave of Jewish terrorism after the Oslo Accords. Seeing how Rabin was being vilified the chiefs knew that his life was at risk. But they had no inkling that Yigal Amir, who wasn’t on anybody’s list as a potential danger to the state, would be the one who’d kill Rabin and thereby change the course of history.

The entire movie should be taken to heart by all entrusted to make decisions about Israel as well as by their many sycophantic supporters at home and abroad. It seems that only those blinded by an ideology based on misguided patriotism and fueled by a cynical abuse of Holocaust memory – if possible, at a comfortable distance from the action, i.e., in the Diaspora – can afford to indulge in support of Jewish intransigence.

The rest of us have reason to fear that the rhetoric of fanatics may win the day and thus destroy Zionism – in the name of Zionism! I’m often accused of being pessimistic. I appreciate, even share, the accusers’ discomfort. In my defense, I suggest that they see The Gatekeepers and judge for themselves.

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  • John W. Foster

    Illuminating movie and excellent commentary, Rabbi Marmur. I hope all readers take up your suggestion and see it. And discuss it.

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