After watching Seven Days at Entebbe Friday evening, someone behind me loudly remarked the film was very “evenhanded.” Arguably it was, but dramatizations of hostage rescues from terrorists shouldn’t be so impartial. The Palestinian hijackers from the 1976 showdown at a Ugandan airport are portrayed sympathetically, having been victims of Israel as the Jews who created Israel were victims of Hitler, we are told. Their German Marxist collaborators are assisting them in the battle against imperialism.
Bizarrely, the film’s most stirring scenes, showing the rehearsal of the Israeli raid and the rescue itself, are cut short. We aren’t even shown the Israeli commandos liberating the hostages, instead only seeing their killing the captors. Prime Minister Rabin, ostensibly a dove, is shown advocating surrender to the hijacker demands for releasing imprisoned terrorists, while Defense Minister Peres defends Israel’s policy of no negotiations with terrorists.
The film, like nearly all movies, is historically fallacious. But there are titillating tidbits that recall the geopolitics of the 1970s. The hijackers tell the Air France passengers that France professed to be pro-Arab but sold arms to Israel and was complicit in repressing Palestinians. France was originally in the 1950s an Israel ally, partly due to its own colonial struggle against Arab nationalism in Algeria. After the 1967 Six Days War, France pragmatically shifted pro-Arab and sold arms to both sides. The film at least pays homage to the Air France crew that courageously declined release with other French passengers and remained with the Israeli and other Jewish hostages whom the terrorists retained.
Most sympathetically portrayed among the terrorists in the film is the male German Marxist hijacker, ostensibly an idealist publisher fighting the class struggle but anguished over the optic of Germans incarcerating and killing Jews. This subplot references the vast terror network of the 1970s and 1980s that bound together Palestinians with European Communists like the Red Brigades, Baader Meinhoff, and the IRA, with support from Kaddafi’s Libya and the Soviet Bloc.
There was also support from occasional African despots like flamboyant Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, whom the film accurately portrays as sadistically insane. After the Israeli raid, his soldiers murdered a hospitalized elderly Israeli woman left behind, along with her protesting Ugandan doctors and nurses. (The film doesn’t mention this atrocity and never shows the hijackers killing anybody.)
Amin also chaired the Organization for African Unity, whose anti-Israel and anti-Western claptrap was hypocritically comical. Kenya, in contrast, quietly helped the Israeli raid, for which Uganda murdered over 200 Kenyans in Uganda and assassinated a Kenyan cabinet member. In one of its better scenes, the film shows Amin, after taking an imploring phone call from an Israeli general, telling a Palestinian terrorist that his mother had always warned him never to go against Israel. Even dictators should listen to their mothers.
Much better than Seven Days at Entebbe, a week previous at the same theater, I watched a documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, about the sultry Hollywood siren who was a Jewish Austrian immigrant and is perhaps best recalled as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Biblical epic with Victor Mature as Samson. Although renowned for her dark beauty, Hedy Lamarr had the mind of an engineer and during WWII patented a torpedo radar technology that eventually facilitated GPS and WiFi. The film estimates the patent would now be worth $30 billion. She patriotically gave the technology to the U.S. Navy, which skeptically sat on it for years, and for which she received no credit for decades, nor any renumeration ever. Her technology was finally deployed in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Lamarr lived fast and often tragically. By age 18 she was already a controversial European film star and married to a leading Austrian arms merchant who, though he was part Jewish like she, was pro-Fascist and, with her, entertained Mussolini and possibly Hitler. She escaped his clutches to Paris, catching the eye of Louis B. Meyer, who immediately turned her into an American star. During WWII she deployed her fame and sensual charm to raise the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in war bonds for her adopted country. Her romances included Howard Hughes, who appreciated not just her glamour but also her inventive talents.
Across failed marriages, addictions, and excessive cosmetic surgeries, Lamarr was an American patriot who never forgot the country that gave her refuge and celebrity. She was one of many brilliant European Jews who escaped the Holocaust and enriched America, helping to defeat the tyranny they escaped, and building a superpower that would shield democracy in an always hostile world. Escapees and survivors of the Holocaust often offer special moral energy and discernment.
There were Holocaust survivors at Entebbe, one of whom reputedly challenged his supposedly anti-Fascist Marxist German captor, who was somewhat flummoxed. (The film doesn’t show this incident, instead portraying the German comforting and hiding the Jewish identity of an elderly French Holocaust survivor.) Himself also mindful of the Holocaust, the Air France captain who led his crew in refusing to leave the Jewish captives, and who’s still alive at age 94, later recalled: “I joined de Gaulle’s free French forces in June 1943. I was 51-years-old at the time of Entebbe and I had been through the war. So I knew precisely what fascism was all about. I knew perfectly well what separation [of the Jews] meant and what it would lead to.” He observed that an Israeli commando’s appearance before him at Entebbe “was as if an angel had come down from the sky.”
Seven Days at Entebbe spiritually fails because it doesn’t fully acknowledge what was obvious to the Air France captain, instead seeking moral equivalence amid banalities about peacemaking. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is more inspirational. The actress, horrified when a German submarine sinks a ship full of refugee children, worked late at night after long days at the film studio to develop a new anti-sub technology. Her personal life was a mess, but in her geopolitical vision of the world, she had great moral clarity.