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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Is Ed Zwick's 'Defiance' anti-Israel?

January 16, 2009 |  4:14 pm

I've never been a big fan of Ed Zwick's movies and the feeling is mutual--he's not a big fan of my writing. But I feel compelled to stick up for Zwick, whose new film, "Defiance," about a group of tough Jews during World War II who fought back against the Nazis, opens wide this weekend. For some bizarre reason, someone--either the knuckleheads at Paramount Vantage, the studio releasing the film, or Zwick's personal publicist--allowed him to do an interview with Debbie Schlussel, a maniacal right-wing columnist/blogger/anti-Islamic crusader who is a star in the Rush Limbaugh/Fox News firmament, but a person who clearly loathes liberal Hollywood and all the pop culture it produces.

I'm not talking quibbling. I'm talking hating. In her review of "Notorious," the new film about rap icon Christopher (Biggie Smalls) Wallace--a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G., Schlussel wrote: "The best part of 'Notorious,' the movie that whitewashes and glorifies this sleazebag, was when Wallace was shot and killed. 'Just die already,' I thought in the critics screening I attended."

Apparently accustomed to missing the point of every movie she writes about, she quickly tossed off an accolade for "Defiance," acknowledging that it was a "great movie," before getting to her real agenda--bashing Zwick for all sorts of ideological offenses, even going so far as to bludgeoning his 1998 film, "The Siege," which she seems to believe was somehow pro-Muslim. Schlussel led off the piece with the Ann Coulter-ish boast: "As I always say, Hollywood loves the dead Jews, but they hate the live ones. Hollywood loves the Holocaust, but hates Israel."

To give you a little flavor of the hysterical tone of the attack, check out this Schlussel-esque observation:

"I asked [Zwick] why Hollywood is so anti-Israel and when would he come full circle and make a movie that shows the Jews who are now the victims of the new Nazis in the Middle East, in Israel. Edward Zwick's squirming was so loud, I felt like I was watching worms crawl through the phone."

To his credit, Zwick responded that he didn't realize Hollywood had made any anti-Israel movies (and if Schlussel  has any evidence, she didn't present it). He added, quite rightly I think, that when it came to the horrific enmity in the Middle East, "it's so full of moral complexity that I'm not sure I could address it in a two-hour movie." He also said he was loath to "analogize" between the "Defiance" story and the contemporary Middle East situation, explaining that when you talk about the Middle East today, "you're not talking about genocide."

This only further infuriated Schlussel, who described Zwick's perfectly lucid response as "pyscho-babble gobbledygookish squirming." Noting that "Defiance" opens in Israel next week, Schlussel ended by saying "Let's hope the Israeli soldiers connect the dots that Edward Zwick--and the rest of Hollywood--won't. They are fighting the same Nazis, the same evil the [heroes of "Defiance"] fought."

First conservatives bashed Hollywood for not making movies about the threat of terrorism, now they are complaining that it's not good enough to celebrate Jews in history--Hollywood must honor today's stalwart Israelis too. For all our past disagreements, Zwick couldn't be more correct on this count. Filmmakers have every right to see the world as a place teeming with moral complexity, and their films have every right to reflect it. It's one reason why so few conservatives ever make it as serious filmmakers--their world, the world of stark good and evil, is a convenient ideological construct that has very little to do with the world of today.