The Use of Cultural Stereotypes to Shape Policy
by Dr. Jack ShaheenModerator Askia Muhammad: Jack Shaheen is an acclaimed author and media critic. He’s a filmmaker whose writings illustrate that the damaging racial and ethnic stereotypes of Arabs, blacks and others injure innocent people. Dr. Jack Shaheen is a distinguished visiting scholar at New York University. He served as a CBS News consultant—how did you ever get that job?—on Middle East affairs and as a professional film consultant. Please welcome Dr. Jack Shaheen.
Jack Shaheen: Joseph Goebbels would probably use the Arab proverb by repetition, even a donkey learns, to initiate his propaganda. And Alice [Rothchild], Israeli, Jew, equal good; Arab, Muslim equal evil is the subject of my brief comments this morning. I want to thank you.
Let me start with another Arab proverb: One hand alone does not clap. And I’m very humbled and honored to be here with my Jewish and Israeli colleagues who receive criticism from both sides. It’s just good to be together to work towards peace and to bring people together. One more quote, Sophocles. I’ll paraphrase Sophocles. Those who tell the stories rule society. And Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, “Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA.” And, finally, the last quote. My wife loves it when I use quotes. You have to either blame her or credit her. While I was walking in the hall, I saw this terrific photograph of my hero when I was a young man teaching documentary film, Edward R. Murrow. And Murrow’s great quote, “What we do not see is as important, if not more important, than what we do see.” And I sincerely hope someone would send that message to C-SPAN, because they’re not here today.
Believe me, there are wonderful Israeli filmmakers that do not do what the Israeli filmmakers I’m talking about today do. I want to start with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who in the 1980s bought a motion picture company called Cannon Films. They turned out dozens of films that vilified Arabs and Muslims. No one really wrote about this or discussed this. The only person to bring it to light was my friend Arthur Lord, who since passed on, a Jewish-American who worked for NBC News. He did a special for NBC on the "Today Show" and received just hundreds of hate mails.
But I thought, to get things started, liven it up, we’d show a quick clip of some Golan and Globus films, plus a few others. And then I’ll move on to television and we’ll wrap it up. Can we show the Golan-Globus?
Video Transcript: Another way we can look at the connection between politics and entertainment, Washington and Hollywood, is the manner in which, historically, cinema has projected the Palestinian people. Since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, our support has never wavered. Every American administration has made it clear whose side we’re on. In contrast, Washington’s policymakers have failed to support the millions of Palestinians who have been made refugees and who have lived lives of poverty and squalor as a result. Well, policies impact opinions, so it's equally unjust how Hollywood has presented the conflict. Movies repeatedly depict Palestinians as terrorists, making it seem that all Palestinians are evil.
Now, that image has been perpetuated by Hollywood films, beginning with the film “Exodus” that dealt with the very early conflict. Here, Palestinians are either invisible or they’re linked with Nazis, perpetrators of horrific acts. A 1966 movie, “Cast a Giant Shadow,” is another early film presenting Israelis as innocent victims of Palestinian violence. Kirk Douglas is an American military specialist and he goes to assist the Israelis. Some of the dialogue in this film reads like it came straight from a public relations department of the Israeli government. “Here’s a country surrounded by five Arab nations ready to shove them into the Mediterranean. No guns, no tanks, no friends—nothing—people fighting with their bare hands for a little piece of desert.”
The Palestinians in this movie are the lowest of the low. We see them solely as vicious gunmen, wide-eyed maniacs. They will kill anyone, anywhere, any time, for any reason. There’s one brutal image in particular of a burnt out bus with a dead Jewish woman tied to its side with a Star of David carved into her back. And when the Palestinians finally speak, they mock and psychologically terrorize another woman trapped in the bus.
Well, if we jump forward a decade to the film “Black Sunday,” the Palestinian terrorist is now a woman. “Striking where it hurts them most, I feel most at home.” She flies the Goodyear blimp into a Miami stadium and tries to wipe out 80,000 Americans at the Super Bowl. She cold-bloodedly eliminates anyone in her path.
The movies that we see basically follow Washington’s policies. It’s reflected in the cinema over and over again, particularly during the 1980s and the ’90s, where you had perhaps 30 films which showed Palestinians as a people who were intent on injuring all Americans. One of the most despicable portrayals of Arabs and Palestinians occurs in the 1987 film “Death Before Dishonor.” First, they murder a guard, and then slaughter an Israeli family. They kidnapped and tortured an American Marine, and in cold blood executed another. And they burned the American flag right in front of the American Embassy, and then dispatch a suicide bomber to blow it up.
One reason we’ve not been allowed to empathize with any Palestinian on the silver screen is due to two Israeli producers, Manahem Golan and Yoram Globus. These two filmmakers created an American company called Cannon, and they released in a period of 20 years, at least 30 films, which vilify all things Arab, particularly Palestinians. They even came out with a film called “Hell Squad,” showing Vegas showgirls trouncing Arabs in the middle of the desert.
[End video transcript]
I think the Vegas showgirls, I think, is a good way to wrap up the Golan-Globus film. These were, of course, aimed at teenagers. They’re all B- films, but very successful movies.
There are a couple of myths American filmmakers, television producers, as well as some Israelis perpetuated. One was the land without people, that there are no Palestinians. Two, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And, three, the only Palestinians that exist are terrorists.
Now, if we fast forward to today, and this really disturbs me—well, let’s go back to 1996. 1996 was the first real Israeli introduction to American television. That’s when CBS-TV introduced Ziva David, who was a Mossad agent, through a very successful series called “NCIS.” Not only did David wear a Star of David, she also wore an IDF uniform to show the military influence on her character. Harvard University professor Eitan Kensky identified David as, “the most prominent televisual Israeli” in the United States. Her depiction was praised for exposing the Western public to Israeli society and culture, its positive portrayal of an Israeli and its cheerleading role in promoting the ties between the United States and Israel. Now, here she is working with American agents, not only killing Arabs and Arab-American and Muslim-American terrorists here, but throughout the world, even in Israel. There’s one episode where she goes to Israel and kills some of the most ugly Palestinians. I can’t watch it again. I mean, I’ve watched so many TV shows and films, but this one took the cake. Anyway, that show lasted for nine years.
Can you imagine—there was no press on this—if two filmmakers called Hishmi and Hunaidi created Cannon Films and vilified Jews and Israelis the way Golan and Globus vilified Arabs and Palestinians, what might the press have been like? And why didn’t the producer of “NCIS” include a Palestinian heroine working with “NCIS”? You know, call her Leila Rafidi or Leila Inadah. They could have done dabke and the hora all at the same time. But no, no, no, we have to have this biased point of view over and over again.
I’ve been talking about this issue for more than four decades now. I gave my first speech at the American University in April of 1975. What I keep trying to hammer home gently—very gently—is entertainment as propaganda. We don’t see it as propaganda. We think it’s mere fluff. The films of Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi Germany were more effective than Germany’s propaganda films. So we cannot look at these films in a vacuum and think they’re pure fluff.
If we fast-forward to today, there are two Israeli producers, Avi Nir and Gideon Raff, responsible for some of the most horrific anti-Arab shows I’ve seen in my life, “Tyrant,” “Dig” and “Homeland.” “Homeland,” you know, it’s sort of like “24” for grown-ups. I understand the Israeli version is much better than this one. If you haven’t seen “Tyrant,” don’t. It’s been renewed for another season. It’s all about this mythical Arab country where Arabs kill Arabs, slaughter Arabs. The one brother seduces women while the family watches, even rapes his daughter-in-law. “Dig” is set in Jerusalem. You’d never know there were Arabs in Jerusalem at all. They don’t appear—except last week, they did appear. They attacked a car with one of our diplomats, beat up our diplomat and the Israeli driver. That’s the only time in four episodes I’ve seen a Palestinian, except for one guy called Khalid who runs from place to place. And if you see the movie—it’s the Brad Pitt movie—in that film, they say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It’s “World War Z,” I don’t know if you’ve seen “World War Z” or not, but that, again, is a theme that’s repeated over and over again.
So there has been no press on this Israeli presence and how they portray Arabs on American television—these two producers. And they convey a very hard line, a very biased perspective of how Arabs are perceived, how we think of Arabs. Last night, before going to bed, I flicked on the TV channel because I couldn’t sleep, and I was watching “The Blacklist.” There’s a key player in “The Blacklist,” the Mossad agent, who wiped out some Iranian terrorists. What we talked about earlier today with my distinguished panelists that brought about in terms of the presence of government, our government, working with the Israelis, holds true as well in the entertainment industry.
So let me conclude. I need my glasses for this because I wrote it down, and I can’t remember it. Here we go. I want to conclude on an optimistic note. Joseph Lowery, a humble man, champion of civil rights, this was at President Barack Hussein Obama’s inauguration, he reminds us that those who have vilified Arabs and Muslims in the past have the ability to eliminate them. They just need to embrace the wisdom of Lowery: “Lord, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance; and help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in the back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man.”
And I added this phrase, “When the Israeli and Arab men get it right and see the light and refuse to fight.”
I began with “those who tell the stories rule society.” When we begin to tell the stories, American and Israeli filmmakers, when we begin to tell stories now more than ever before, fresh new stories, stories that shatter stereotypes, stories that humanize the people, stories that conquer fears, stories that create new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking and feeling, when we create those stories, we will crush hate and advance peace. So it reminds us that all humankind is truly one family in the care of God.
Thank you very much.