Film critic Ted Shen has perhaps unintentionally stumbled on one of the most terrible blood libels and outrageous statements regarding Israel perpetuated by Palestinians and their supporters in his review of the film Gaza Strip (Critic's Choice, April 19). Based on this narrative, the Israelis are accused of deliberately poisoning Arab women and children. This propaganda echoes the centuries-old anti-Semitic canard that Jews poison Christian children. Such baseless, ridiculous, and despicable lies that have been propagated by high-level Palestinian officials as well as Chairman Arafat's wife Suha do not even deserve to be dignified by a defense. These accusations are an effort to both openly and not very subtly try to equate Israeli activities with the worst atrocities committed in the 20th century and should not be given credence or legitimacy by any fair media source.
Though understanding that a mistake can occur in a review of a movie, I am distressed by Mr. Shen's reactions to letters asking him to clarify this error ("Letters" section, April 26). No dictionary definition of the term "nerve gas" can change the fact that to the average reader the meaning of the accusation that Israel engages in chemical warfare against civilians is clear. Nor does changing the wording to "toxic" suffice to describe tear gas used by most police and army agencies in the world to disperse demonstrators with an aim to minimize casualties.
In his April 19 Critic's Choice review, Mr. Shen writes that the movie "offers a ringing indictment of the Sharon government." Since the director of the movie started filming in January 2001, and since Mr. Sharon was not elected prime minister until February 6, 2001, and was not sworn in as prime minister until March 2001, it is by no means certain that the incident in question took place under his leadership. As popular as it has become in some circles to place the blame for the lack of peace solely on Prime Minister Sharon, the future of the Middle East and the prospects for peace will unfortunately not be decided by a popularity contest between leaders. Over the last decade, Israel has had more than five prime ministers. All of them negotiated, in one way or another, with Yasser Arafat. All of them declared their readiness to make the painful concession needed to achieve peace. Therefore, it seems that the absence of peace and the prevalence of violence in our region should be attributed to the one person who has led the Palestinians during that entire time: Yasser Arafat, the man who chose terror, lies, and death as a way of life, as a profession, as a destiny, and as a mission. It is Arafat's features that float above Jenin and Netanya, Jerusalem and Nablus, Afula and Bethlehem. It is Arafat that disperses pain and sorrow, deception, incitement, desperation, and destruction. It is his lack of leadership and vision that is the cause of the terrible misery inflicted on both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples.
In contrast, the Israel Film Festival, which opened in Chicago May 2 and ran through May 9, illustrates a very different example of how an artistic event can introduce its country's cultural achievements without trying to score political points by attacking others. The Israeli films presented in this festival were selected based on their artistic merit and not for their ideology or propaganda value. Thus they represent a balanced view of both Israel's film industry and Israel, and are not intended to serve as vehicles designed to portray a skewed, inaccurate view of the Middle East conflict to the people of this great city.
Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest
Ted Shen replies:
Despite the objections of Mr. Roet and the many others who've weighed in, director James Longley has well-documented evidence that hundreds of Palestinians were the victims of something that was clearly worse than tear gas. The film is being shown next week in Rogers Park (see listings for information), and is also available on video (through Longley's Web site, littleredbutton.com), so people who are interested can see it for themselves. This particular attack occurred a week after Sharon was elected, but it's only one of a series of incidents Longley included in the film that form his criticism of Sharon's policies.