Sunday, January 27, 2008

Twisting TV Jews

January 25, 2008

Twisting TV Jews

Abe Novick
Special to the Jewish Times

You don’t have to be a writer these days to appreciate their value when it comes to good, honest television. And you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this month’s series on PBS, “Jewish Americans.”

Amidst a writers’ strike that made the Golden Globes spin to a near halt and brought a dearth of new programming, MPT’s reported ratings for “Jewish Americans” are as populous as a boat from the old country pulling into Ellis Island.

But while many Americans have sat around their TVs, watching the story of Jews arriving, struggling and succeeding in this country, many of us may be unaware of what Iran’s state television recently produced.

Countering PBS’ meticulous attention to history, in typical Bizarro World fashion, a show called “Zero Degree Turn,” about the fate of European Jewry, aired in Iran in 2007 and is now threatening to be marketed beyond. It was one of that country’s most expensive and elaborately produced programs ever.

Apparently it was a ratings hit. It told the story of a young Iranian who goes to Paris to study at university before World War II. He becomes involved with a young Jewish woman who fears the growing strength of the Nazis in Germany.

In a sympathetic twist, from a country with a knack for twisting truth, scenes actually showed men, women and children with yellow stars on their clothes forcibly taken out of their homes and loaded into trucks by Nazi soldiers. That’s a little strange coming from a country whose president has denied the Holocaust.

But while the series of 22 installments has already aired, its radioactive effect is still being picked up on blogs and in print, including in The Jerusalem Post just this month.

Not surprisingly, while it actually got some positive reviews for at least admitting the Holocaust took place, it was full of factual errors including propagating the lie that Zionists and Nazis collaborated to provoke Jewish emigration. This theme and an emphasis on the struggle between Zionism and Judaism is worked into the story line. While both are misrepresented, Zionism is positioned (as is often the case in the Arab world) on an equal plane with Nazism.

The director of the series, Hassan Fathi, said about it, “I decided to produce this series in 2002, and in those days the Holocaust was not an issue. Even if one single Jew is killed in German camps, the world should be ashamed. By the same token, if a single Palestinian dies, the world should be ashamed. I sympathize with the Jewish victims of World War II, to the same extent with women and children victims of the war in Palestine.”

Another erroneous problem, lest we forget, is that Zionism was around long before WWII and the Holocaust. To promote the canard that Israel was conceived due to the Holocaust, is to position the Arab world and in particular the Palestinians as the victim. It’s as if Arabs are being punished by having to live with Israel in the midst of their territory, even though they had nothing to do with what happened in Europe.

So as Jews in this country tune in and see their history retold with the effort of dedicated writers, teams of researchers armed with facts and with the aid of historic photos and footage, another side of the world dramatizes their warped story.

And by producing a show with some shades of truth, perhaps just enough to gain some class, some legitimacy, it will be taken seriously by ignorant viewers who’ll watch it as if it’s “Schindler’s List.” Because Ahmadinejad is such a clown, because his claims are so preposterous, perhaps they think a softer, glossy version is what’s needed to spur on a debate.