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March 17, 2016 6:39 am

Is Hollywood Preparing to Use Theodore Herzl Biopic to Denigrate Israel?

avatar by Max Elstein Keisler

Theodor Herzl in Basel, 1897. Photo: Wikipedia.

Theodor Herzl in Basel, 1897. Photo: Wikipedia.

Many biopics tend to cast their subjects in a very positive light.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a 2006 film about the Irish War of Independence against the British, presents an unequivocally pro-IRA viewpoint. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Spike Lee’s 1992 Malcolm X, a hagiography of the admittedly complicated but undoubtedly antisemitic figure, is in the United States National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.” That’s fair. Although the film glosses over Malcolm X’s antisemitism and conspiracy theories, that’s not its job. The Oscar-winning 1982 biopic of Mohandas Gandhi ignores many of the more unsavory aspects of Gandhi’s life. That’s how these kind of films are. They’re on the side of their protagonists.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read in Variety that H2O Motion Pictures is making a biopic of Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism.

That they would make a movie about Herzl is in itself nothing remarkable —  Herzl certainly led an interesting life, from his years as a struggling playwright, to his manic travels across Europe to meet with whichever national leaders would see him, to his unusual and arguably tragic family life.

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What surprised me is that Sidney Blumenthal is attached to the project, both as an executive producer and as a member of an advisory board to “ensure [their] approach to the story [is] as well balanced as possible.” Frankly, this is appalling.

Sidney Blumenthal’s son, Max Blumenthal, is such an extreme “anti-Zionist” that former KKK leader David Duke has wholeheartedly endorsed his work. Max Blumenthal regularly draws comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, equates Israel with ISIS, and fabricates quotes to associate Israel with the alleged American torture of enemy noncombatants. Unsurprisingly, he calls for Israel’s destruction and the elimination of the land’s Jewish population. I can’t speculate on what motivates Max Blumenthal to smear the Jewish state in such a blatantly non-factual way, but it’s clear that he is far from an objective critic of Israel.

Sidney Blumenthal has promoted his son’s “activism” for years. When Eric Alterman of The Nation wrote a harsh review of Max Blumenthal’s lie-filled and hateful Goliath, Sidney went on the offensive, allegedly seeking to sabotage Alterman professionally with a negative email campaign. Blumenthal’s mailing list is highly influential, reaching journalists, well-placed government officials and various academics. His smear campaign against Alterman was no small thing. At no point has Sidney Blumenthal ever criticized his son’s support for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the land of Israel. Rather, Blumenthal has done his best to promote his son’s work. And Blumenthal is a well connected man. When he promotes something, people like Hillary Clinton see it, for better or worse.

So how can Sidney Blumenthal possibly provide balance to the story of Herzl? By making sure the movie draws all the necessary equivalencies between Israel and Nazi Germany that are so en vogue in his son’s circles? Perhaps they can add a scene where Herzl partakes in a ceremonial meal of blood-matzah and baby flesh. Really, this is unbelievable. I’ve been struggling to draw a comparison. A biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. with David Duke as executive producer to provide balance? A documentary about the Peshmerga with Saddam Hussein on the advisory board? I’d like to think that H2O Motion Pictures is unaware of Sidney Blumenthal’s at best antagonistic relationship to Israel. The man is the father of a hateful antisemite, and has regularly promoted his son’s canards. His association with this project is shameful.

Furthermore, the very idea that Herzl’s life is so controversial in itself makes me uneasy (apparently Malcolm X and the IRA weren’t ‘controversial’ enough to require an advisory board!) The Zionists may have made tactical mistakes, but they were ultimately successful in preserving the Jewish people through the most catastrophic events in millenia. I write this from my apartment in a working class neighborhood in Tel Aviv, populated almost entirely by the second and third generation descendants of Jews expelled from the Arab world.

The people here live their lives, whether secular or religious, in Hebrew. Their country has a (relatively) successful economy and a vibrant culture, and none of this existed just a century ago. To me, that’s a beautiful thing. How can people who can’t see the beauty in the Zionist project possibly do Herzl’s story justice? It belongs to the people who live his vision. It does not belong to Israel’s enemies. This is unbelievable.

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