Will Mart Green Make Amends for Little Town of Bethlehem?

Palestinian protesters featured in the 2010 movie Little Town of Bethlehem dress up as Santa Claus to portray the Israelis who arrest them as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Mart Green, an heir to the Hobby Lobby fortune produced the film, which was directed by Jim Hanon. (Screenshot from film.)
Palestinian protesters featured in the 2010 movie Little Town of Bethlehem dress up as Santa Claus to portray the Israelis who arrest them as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Mart Green, an heir to the Hobby Lobby fortune produced the film, which was directed by Jim Hanon. (Screenshot from film.)

Mart Green, the chief strategy officer at Hobby Lobby, a chain of 700 hobby and craft stores located in the United States, is facing a challenge similar to the one confronting the protagonist in a Hasidic story known as “A Sack Full of Feathers.”

In the story, a Jew in Eastern Europe who loves to tell (and embellish) stories about the people in his village is summoned to speak to his rabbi who tells him that through his irresponsible story telling, he has ruined the reputation of a fellow Jew, a businessman.

The storyteller is appalled at what he has done and asks what steps he must take to make amends. He promises to do anything the rabbi tells him. The rabbi tells him to go get a feather pillow, which he does. Upon his return the rabbi tells him to rip open the pillow and scatter the feathers into the air, which he does.

After the feathers are blown about, the rabbi then turns to the storyteller and tells him to gather up every last one of the feathers and stuff them back into the pillow. The storyteller looks at the rabbi in disbelief and complains that it is an impossible task. The feathers are all over the place. There is simply no way he’ll be able to retrieve all of them.

“That’s exactly the point,” the rabbi says. “The damage can’t be undone.” The rabbi then tells the storyteller he must apologize to the person whose reputation he harmed and also speak to all of the people he spoke to in the course of his story telling. The rabbi also told him to study the Torah and with a particular emphasis on the writings about lashon hara or “evil tongue.” The storyteller did as he was told and according to the story, underwent a change in how he dealt with people.

Mart Green is now confronted with a similar scenario. He has been asked to retrieve the feathers of lashon hara that were released from the pillow and broadcast into the world by his decision to finance and distribute Little Town of Bethlehem, a so-called documentary that egregiously misinforms its audiences about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

One of the most egregious problems with Little Town of Bethlehem, which was shown in at least 400 public venues in North America, Europe and the Middle East, is that it posits an equivalence between Palestinian violence and the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s.

It does this in a number of ways, most notably by juxtaposing footage of the protesters being attacked by Bull Connor’s police with images of Palestinians fighting with Israeli soldiers, presumably in the West Bank. To drive the point home, the movie quotes Sami Awad, founder of Holy Land Trust, who asserts “The First Intifada was a lot like the civil rights movement in the U.S.”

Awad’s assertion that the First Intifada was “a lot like” the non-violent civil rights movement in the U.S. ignores one obvious fact: Despite the of-repeated assertion that the First Intifada was a “non-violent” uprising, it was no such thing. Between 1987 and 1992, thousands of firebombs were thrown at Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. Dozens of Israelis were killed by these and other acts of violence during this time.

Moreover, hundreds of Palestinians suspected of collaborating were killed by their fellow Palestinians. The effort to root out suspected collaborators provided a cover for widespread score-settling murders in Palestinian society. This internecine violence is one of the reasons why Palestinian leaders worked to bring the First Intifada to an end.

There were no comparable acts of violence perpetrated by the civil rights movement led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

To compare the self-disciplined, moral and non-violent civil rights movement in the United States with the First Intifada is an insult to the memory of MLK and to the African American community in the United States.

There’s a lot more that’s wrong with the movie. For example, the movie portrays Jewish and Arab relations prior to Israel’s creation as good and free of racism or hostility. This is simply false. The Grand Mutfi of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, the leading figure of Palestinian nationalism, regularly incited against Jews and this incitement resulted in the deaths of dozens of Israelis in a number of attacks, most notably the riots of 1929 and 1936.

Shockingly enough, the movie, directed by former advertising executive Jim Hanon, makes no mention of the Mufti’s role in broadcasting Nazi anti-Semitism into the Middle East during World War II. It’s one of the drivers of the conflict till this day. How can a movie ostensibly devoted to peacemaking ignore problems like this?

Moreover, there is no reference in the movie to the vicious antisemitic incitement broadcast on Hamas- and PA-controlled television stations on a regular basis. The movie also portrays Israeli voters as monsters who do not want peace because they elected the “fanatical” Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Israeli voters did this, according to a source in the movie, because they did not want peace. In reality, it’s not that they didn’t want peace; they wanted security.

At one point in the film, it shows a group of Palestinian men confronting and trying to provoke Israeli soldiers. It’s presented as part of a strategy of “peacemaking” but in reality, it is a contrived spectacle that makes the Israelis look like monsters to audiences in the West, as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

In sum, Little Town of Bethlehem portrays the conflict as almost all Israel’s fault and the Palestinians are helpless and innocent victims. Not only does this demonize Israel, it harms the reputation of Israel’s supporters in the United States, many of whom are Jews. By portraying Israel as the warlike nation that will not make peace with the Palestinians (whose violent acts are whitewashed), Little Town of Bethlehem portray supporters of the Jewish state as morally misguided people who are indifferent to the suffering caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Propaganda like this has had a real impact on American Jews, particularly on college campuses where they have been regularly assaulted and harassed on an increasingly regular basis over the past few years. Mart Green may have thought he was promoting peace when he produced Little Town of Bethlehem, but in fact, his movie promoted baseless hatred toward Israel and its Jewish supporters in the United States. People who believe what this movie says about Israel will think that there is something seriously wrong with the people who support the Jewish state.

In an effort to convince Mart Green to make amends, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) sent a letter asking him to “unwind the damage” caused by the movie he produced.

In effect, CAMERA asked Green to gather up the feathers he and his director, Jim Hanon, threw into the wind back in 2010 when they produced and distributed this movie. Along with this letter, CAMERA provided a list of the problems in the movie by CAMERA. (Both the letter and the list of problems with the movie can be seen here.)

In the letter, CAMERA asks if Green produced With God on Our Side, another movie that demonized Israel and which came out at about the same time as Little Town of Bethlehem. The director of this film, Porter Speakman, Jr., has never revealed the names of the people who footed the bill for this film. “Individuals and organizations who felt it was an important topic to address donated toward this project,” Speakman wrote in an email to CAMERA in July 2012.

Until somebody fesses up for producing this film, the world will never know who paid Speakman to defame the Jewish state in a manner that would make Hamas and Hezbollah happy.

Green might not be able to do undo all of the damage caused by Little Town of Bethlehem, but his efforts will go a long way toward demonstrating that the Green family — which owns the Hobby Lobby, Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores, and which is a primary supporter of Oral Roberts University, the Empowered21 Movement, and the Museum of the Bible — understands that with great power comes great responsibility.

Hopefully, Mart Green has learned that making and distributing documentaries is not like selling other types of merchandise that can be put on a shelf in a craft shop. If there is something wrong with the product on the shelf, it can be returned for a refund.

In 2006, Hobby Lobby recalled 2.3 million Christmas light sets that posed a fire and electric shock hazard to consumers. Earlier this year, the company recalled more than 12,000 pacifier holders and 14,000 stuffed rattles, both of which presented a choking hazard to children.

Recalling binky holders and stuffed rattles is an easy task compared to the challenge facing Mart Green. How does one undo the damage done by dishonest propaganda?

How does one recall a bad idea?

Mart Green had an opportunity to make a truthful movie about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but sadly, he didn’t. Now, he has a chance to demonstrate he has learned his lesson by at least trying to stuff some of the feathers back into the pillow.

Will he?

About the Author
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.