A group of bereaved parents has called on the U.S.-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to rescind its nomination of Palestinian film Paradise Now, and have collected more than 32,000 signatures on a petition to support their move.
Yossi Mendellevich, Yossi Zur and Ron Kerman all lost children in a suicide bomb attack on a Haifa bus on March 5, 2003, three years to the day before Paradise Now is up for an Oscar. They say the nomination, not to mention the various awards the film has already won, sends the wrong message about suicide bombing.
"What happened to me can happen to anyone," says Ron Kerman, whose 17-year-old daughter Tal was killed in the bombing. "If the West values freedom, we must be careful what we endorse."
Speaking at a press conference at which the trio mailed the petition to Academy chief Sid Ganis, Kerman called the film a "well-disguised incitement film," a point seconded by fellow bereaved father Yossi Mendellevich.
Responding to a suggestion that the film portrays suicide bombers having doubts about the task they are about to undertake, Mendellevich said there are no such doubts in the movie.
"There is manipulative dialogue, not doubts," he said pointedly. "It is nothing but a propaganda film that contributes significantly to the Palestinian death industry. It is artistic terror."
The petition will be presented to American media at a press conference Friday morning in Los Angeles, and will then be forwarded to Ganis.
All three bereaved parents said they have no interest in censoring opposing viewpoints, and reiterated they view freedom of speech and artistic expression as "holy" values, even for suicide bombers and their families.
But they said that while they support Dutch/Israeli-Arab film maker Hany Abu-Assad's right to make portray suicide terrorists in a positive, or at least humane, light, there is no reason to bestow awards on the film.
"Imagine a film 'explaining' the anger of the September 11 bombers, the London or Madrid bombers, or the Bali nightclub bombers without showing the results of their actions," said Calev Ben-David, a public relations expert and former journalist enlisted to help publicize the petition. "Would it have won the same awards as Paradise Now?"
Comparison to Munich
Asked to compare Paradise Now to Steven Spielberg's Munich, another controversial film that critics say draws an inappropriate moral equivalence between murderer and victim, Yossi Mendellevich rejects the comparison out-of-hand.
"One can agree or disagree with Israel's policy regarding the Munich killers, but there is absolutely no comparison with this movie. (The Mossad) set out to target specific individuals, with names and faces and families, who had murdered Israeli athletes.
"But the kid that murdered my son was just out to kill as many people as he could. His only target was an Israeli bus. It is wrong to mention the two movies in the same breath."
Mendellevich did draw a comparison to another successfully Hollywood film, Pulp Fiction.
"In Pulp Fiction, there is a clear sense the protagonists are vicious murderers, even if they are somewhat likeable. In Paradise Now, there is no sense the likeable murderers are criminals," he said.
Showing the Palestinian side
Supporters of the film say the movie is important because it shows the conflict with Israel from a Palestinian perspective. Ron Kerner agrees.
"The film absolutely does send a message about Palestinian society," says the 40-something Haifa businessman. "At one stage, one of the bombers wants to 'get out,' but the social pressure in Palestinian society is such that he just can't. This is certainly an important face of Palestinian society."
Kerner, a member of Israel's 1980 Olympic swim team who missed the competition due to the U.S.-led boycott, says he doesn't expect the Academy to actually rescind the nomination. After all, the nominating committee knew full well what the movie was and was about before nominating it.
And if it wins the Best Foreign Film award, he says he will "live with it. After all, the world is not perfect.
"What can I do? This is the second time politics has screwed up my life."