Last month we took singer Harry Belafonte to task for publicly praising the Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, and opined that he had joined a long list of celebrity sycophants to despotism.
Several actors and technicians in the American movie industry have now joined him in toadying to a foreign outrage — to wit, the Turkish film “Kurtlar vadisi — Irak” (“Valley of the Wolves — Iraq”), which opened Feb. 3 in that country and since then in more than a dozen European ones, including Denmark. A U.S. release is yet to come.
In this movie, Gary Busey, an American actor with a crashingly mediocre credit list, plays an American doctor — but not merely an American doctor, as a Knight Ridder dispatch published in Wednesday’s Tribune reported. Busey’s character, the Associated Press reported Feb. 6, is in fact a Jewish American doctor.
The distinction is significant because of what the film depicts him doing — harvesting the organs of wounded Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison in order to send them to Israel for resale to rich people in New York, London and Tel Aviv. The scene would be hideous enough if it were just libeling Americans — which it most assuredly does — but Busey’s portrayal of a Jew committing this atrocity is an update on an age-old anti-Semitic evil: the blood libel.
In its original form in medieval Europe, this was a rumor that Jews captured and killed Christian children, whose blood they mixed into the unleavened bread they made for Passover. Many Jews perished in pogroms throughout the Middle Ages when the blood libel was used to explain a child’s death.
Busey’s performance raises the same specter as did the medieval anti-Semites: That of Jews butchering gentiles and using their physical substance for nefarious purposes. While it does not involve ritual slaughter, it plays into the same primal fears — and is the more malignant given its heightened believability in an age when involuntary transplants are more credible a demon to conjure than secret rituals.
This is no isolated recurrence of the blood libel in the Muslim world, where newspapers frequently run cartoons depicting Israelis drinking the blood of Palestinians. The thing even surfaced on an American university campus in the spring of 2002, when posters showing food cans labeled “canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license” appeared at San Francisco State University.
And now we have an American actor carrying forward this loathsome lie in a foreign film. It is beyond despicable.
Nor is Busey (“Lethal Weapon”) the only Hollywood figure participating in this horrid production. Billy Zane (“Titanic”) plays a murderous American special operations soldier, and Spencer Garrett and Tico Ortiz also appear. Others lent their services behind the scenes: Lynda Armstrong as chief makeup and hair designer, and Mark Meddings as special effects coordinator.
All deserve special mention at the 78th Annual Academy Awards ceremony March 5:
“The envelope please — for people who will never work in this town again.”