Monday evening at the United Nations, the same trend-setting General Assembly that elected a Libyan Gaddafi loyalist as its 2009-2010 president rolled out the red carpet for another landmark moment in UN creativity: Turning the UN General Assembly chamber into the venue for a commercial movie premiere. And not just any movie, but Julian Schnabel’s “Miral” — apparently the very latest in Israel-trashing pro-Palestinian personal journeys.
Not that this epic event deviated much from the day-job thrust of the General Assembly. The GA default mode, reliably directed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is to savage Israel and exalt the Palestinians — while ignoring such Palestinian peccadilloes as suicide-bombing and knife-wielding terrorism. But most days the General Assembly is short on the kind of stardust that makes bigotry look chic. Most of the UN delegates who peddle this approach to world peace just don’t have the glitz of Hollywood celebrities. The UN General Assembly rarely projects the glamor of the big screen — annual speeches from the Burmese junta and stage appearances by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notwithstanding.
Well… move over, Syria and Cuba. Monday evening’s U.S. premiere of “Miral” finally brought to the UN General Assembly chamber such heavyweights of global diplomacy as Sean Penn, Robert DeNiro, Josh Brolin and Vanessa Redgrave. Also on hand was the the movie’s director, Julian Schnabel, and his Palestinian girlfriend, Rula Jebreal — who inspired the movie.
Both the Israeli delegation to the UN and the American Jewish Committee protested UN plans to host this event. That did nothing to sway the current General Assembly president, Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss. The Los Angeles Times reports that a few months ago Schnabel “arranged a private viewing of the movie” for Deiss, hoping that Deiss would arrange a screening at the UN. And indeed Deiss did, including a post-screening panel discussion moderated by Dan Rather (you remember him — the guy CBS finally unloaded after his “60 Minutes” Bush-trashing spectacular, based on documents he couldn’t authenticate).
All this is a fascinating use of UN facilities, for which American taxpayers foot at least 22% of the bill. If General Assembly President Deiss is now turning the Assembly’s chamber into a venue for commercial movie premieres, it would at least seem fitting that he arrange for the UN to charge fees for the publicity — and remit those to the UN’s donors, the biggest of which are the U.S. and Japan. Otherwise, we have arrived at an arrangement in which the Swiss president of the UN General Assembly is commandeering UN facilities, graced with the UN logo, to promote commercial ventures of his choosing, all on the tab of folks such as hard-working Americans and the currently very hard-hit Japanese. That this Swiss diplomat’s preferences evidently tilt toward Palestinian propaganda does not improve the situation.
If Deiss insists on using the UN General Assembly chamber to screen commercial movies, perhaps a more equitable system should be introduced — reflecting not his personal selections based on his private viewings, but the tastes of the general public. Just re-designate the General Assembly chamber as a movie hall, and open up bidding for its commercial use. If the UN isn’t willing to turn over the proceeds to member states, it could perhaps use them to help pay for the current $2 billion renovation of UN headquarters in New York — for which U.S. taxpayers are, as usual, getting stuck with the biggest share of the bill.
Or maybe there are other uses to which the General Assembly chamber might also be profitably devoted — circus acts, dog shows, pie-eating contests and international yodeling competitions. Once it’s accepted practice that the president of the General Assembly may employ the facilities of the world’s leading multilateral body for whatever purposes of publicity or propaganda he might fancy, there’s no limit to the possibilities. This is something that members of the 112th Congress, now debating whether to keep pouring billions of U.S. tax dollars into the UN, might want to consider — now that the UN General Assembly has made its March 14 debut as Manhattan’s newest movie theater.