Academy voters are unusually sympathetic to Jewish-themed films in the foreign language category. The last ten years have seen three such winners: Life is Beautiful (1998), Nowhere in Africa (2002), and The Counterfeiters (2007). But unlike these three, Waltz with Bashir does not take place during World War II. Like last year’s Israeli entry, Beaufort, which also earned a nomination, it deals instead with the Israeli occupation of Lebanon; in this case, the 1982 Sabra and Chatila Massacres and their aftermath. One month after the 9/11 attacks, I wrote a piece called Why Do They Hate Us?, in which I proposed that if we wanted to combat the spread of anti-American Islamist terrorism, we needed to understand the answer to this question. President Bush told the American people that “They hate our freedoms.” He was wrong. I presented six possible real reasons, one of which was “Sabra and Chatila.”
Beginning on September 16, 1982, Israeli soldiers stood by while Christian Phalangist militia, over a period of 40 hours, entered two Palestinian refugee camps and massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian non-combatants, including children. In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Foreman, who was a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in Lebanon at the time, visits other Lebanon veterans 24 years later to try to understand why he has blotted out all memory of his actions during those 40 hours. This a powerful film, and it is admirable that Foreman and other Israelis want to come to terms with what is one of the most shameful episodes in Israeli history. I am Jewish and it pains me to realize how many of my fellow Jewish-Americans blindly support anything that the Israeli government does. Thank goodness the Israelis themselves—or at least some of them—are more discerning than their American cousins.
By the way, in case you haven’t heard, Waltz with Bashir is an animated film. If a plurality of Academy voters can overcome the oddity of voting for an animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir could beat out The Class for the Oscar.