Mike Fleming

Miral director Julian Schnabel was able to get an R rating changed to PG-13 after he and producer Jon Kilik recut it to downplay the implication of a molestation. Now, Miral faces a new obstacle as Schnabel prepares to show the film Monday at United Nations headquarters. The American Jewish Committee on Sunday urged the president of the United Nations General Assembly to reconsider his decision to sponsor a screening of the film for diplomats before Miral is put in limited theatrical release starting March 25.

The AJC letter prompted a quick response by Schnabel, the film’s distributor Harvey Weinstein, Kilik and Rula Jebreal. Latter wrote the script based on a novel she wrote, based on her experiences as an orphaned Palestinian girl who grows up in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war who finds herself drawn into the conflict. The film stars Frieda Pinto, Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave.

In a letter sent to UN General Assembly president Joseph Deiss, AJC executive director David Harris called the film “a blatantly one-sided event…the film has a clear political message, which portrays Israel in a highly negative light.” The entire letter appears at the bottom of this post.

Schnabel, who with Kilik and Jebreal struggled to shed the MPAA’s R rating because he hoped the film would promote dialogue between young people on the complicated Israeli/Palestinian relationship, defended his film in a statement.

“I love the State of Israel,” said Schnabel, who shot Miral in Jerusalem. “I believe in it, and my film is about preserving it, not hurting it. Understanding is part of the Jewish way and Jewish people are supposed to be good listeners. But, if we don’t listen to the other side, we can never have peace. Instead of saying ‘no,’ I ask the AJC to say, ‘yes,’ see Miral and join the discussion.”

Said Jebreal: “Miral is a story about human beings, Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and it explores how we all react differently to the violence around us, whether physical, emotional, political or otherwise. It is a film about love, education, understanding and peace. That seems like a good thing to show at the United Nations.”

Weinstein, whose The Weinstein Company is domestic distributor, said: “As a Jewish American, I can categorically state that I would not be releasing a film that was flagrantly biased towards Israel or Judaism. Miral tells a story about a young Palestinian woman, but that does not make it a polemic. By stifling discussion or pre-judging a work of art, we only perpetuate the prejudice that does so much harm. When I told my daughters, Lili 16 and Emma,13, about the AJC demand, they said, ‘give Mr. Harris a copy of the Constitution and point out the paragraph about free speech.’ I truly hope the AJC will join us for the premiere of Miral and the discussion that follows.”

Here is the original AJC complaint letter from David Harris:

Dear President Deiss,

I write on behalf of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to express profound concern about the planned showing of the film “Miral” in the General Assembly Hall on Monday.

To say the least, we were surprised to learn about this highly unusual premiere under the auspices of your office. The film has a clear political message, which portrays Israel in a highly negative light. Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself — and the prestige of his office — with such a blatantly one-sided event.

AJC has had a long and productive association with the UN that dates back to the world body’s founding in San Francisco in 1945. Indeed, historians have credited our organization with a key role in achieving the human-rights provisions in the Charter. Moreover, the Barbara Hepworth sculpture in front of the Secretariat building was a gift from our president, Jacob Blaustein, to then Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold as a tangible gesture of support. Today, we enjoy consultative status at the UN.

It is in that spirit of deeply-rooted connection to the UN that we voice the earnest hope, even at this late date, that you will reconsider your decision about the film. Otherwise, you will only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment in the UN.

Thank you for the consideration of our view.

Cordially,

David Harris

AJC Executive Director