By UDI ALONI
To Gal Uchovsky and Eitan Fuchs,
In two weeks time, your film “The Bubble” will be screened as part of the Homage to Tel Aviv week, at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival (Congratulations!). There is concern among left wing circles in Toronto and elsewhere that this event is the result of Israeli pressure to brand Israel as a democratic-enlightened state. You are becoming ambassadors, or PR spokesmen, for the state, blurring the wrongs of the occupation, by imbuing Israel with a liberal scent. By participating in these types of events you might, together with numerous Israeli filmmakers, find yourself participating in the dirty job of branding Israel as a hip Western democracy.
The reason I chose to address you directly and publicly is, among others, the aggressive “outing” campaign which you decided to run against Israeli celebrities during the large LGBT support rally in Tel Aviv last month. Following the rally, I decided it was time for the political “outing” of you two, addressing you once and for all with the question: Are you with us or with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Do you represent the opposition to the occupation, the values of equality and human dignity for all, or do you represent Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Saar, Benjamin Netanyahu and Limor Livnat, whom you recently embraced in public? I am afraid that nowadays one cannot belong on both sides!
You are talented people who have done a lot for the community (and I, unlike others, do think that your heart is on the right side), but you have chosen to promote an erroneous political agenda: Turning the LGBT community into a part of the national-racist consensus. As the organizers of the solidarity rally with the community after the horrible murder at the LGBT youth centre in Tel Aviv, you deprived former Israeli–Arab MK Issam Mahoul of the right to speak, after he had asked that you allow him to express solidarity with all victims of hate crimes, whoever they may be. By doing so, you have denied the city of Tel Aviv a unique moment of grace, a moment in which the LGBT community and the Palestinians in Israel and in the OT could have been brought together. Instead of demonstrating for all to see that former MK Mahoul represents political and human values which should be regarded as obvious, and symbolizes the struggle against any type of oppression and violence, you chose to invite others to the podium: Political leaders heading the racist establishment, which is committing war crimes on a regular basis. Thus you have signified in an unequivocal manner that the Arab is the “Political Other “, outside of the consensus, while Israeli politicians are the ones who represent openness, Western values and “apolitical” tolerance (within the ethnic consensus, of course). By doing so, you now stand for a “Leftist Lite” way of thinking, which supports the continuation of cooperation between artistic creativity, government and big money in Israel.
Eitan, Gal, this is NOT personal. I am challenging you to an ideological debate inside the realm of Israeli cinema. You are invited to respond in a similar manner, or change sides. In this debate, my argument for you to counter is that in both the rally and your films, gay people are integrated into Israeli society by resorting to the Zionist myth of the handsome soldier. Recruiting the gay youths and dressing them in uniform not only brings them into the heart of Israeli mainstream, but also brings the IDF into the American-European mainstream. This act exploits the image of gay people, from the metrosexual point of view, as a global symbol of the struggle for rights and equality, and a symbol of beauty and gentleness. Thus an innocent enlightened image of the Israeli soldier emerges, and this image grants moral validity to his actions. In keeping with the Israeli myth, the (male) soldier is a handsome, Ashkenazi (of European descent) man, who is conscientious to the point of self-tormenting, and who gets killed by an Arab, thereby becoming a martyr (in your film “Yossi & Jagger” the killer is the faceless Arab, and in your film “The Bubble” the killer is the Palestinian lover who commits suicide). The gay soldier is granted a place of honor in the national monument as an IDF hero killed in action, the ultimate representative of Zionist masculinity. In his death he endows us with emotional attachment not to an oppressed minority, but to the occupying Jewish society and its masculine-nationalist values. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that your cooperation abroad with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has always been very prolific.
Gal, Eytan, you may have come to these circumstances involuntarily. You may have drifted with the tide and forgotten that once you had wished to swim against it. Instead of “outing” famous singers, why not get out of your political closet, stand with the oppressed and refrain from trying to turn the LGBT community into a part of a violent racist mainstream. A violent occupying people cannot be enlightened and tolerant, and making theirs a photogenic image won’t help. Why not go back to the editing room, and change the ending: The Israeli soldier of today, gay or straight, is always an occupier, never a martyr. On the other hand, you may have never been inside the political closet. Perhaps what we see is what we get: Patriots whose ultimate wish is to have the Tehina (Sesame paste) drip on the gay soldier’s uniform too. Perhaps that is the reason for your sharp criticism of Lesbians who were not sufficiently mainstream for you, when they faced you bravely during the rally, shouting that there is no pride in the occupation.
Only you know who you really are, and maybe your films did play a vital role, but now that you are celebrities, mingling with Ambassadors all over the world, invited to cocktails with Israeli cultural attachés (whose superior is the racist minister Avigdor Lieberman), we too would like to know who you really are. And Toronto wants to know as well.
So here is our new code of conduct as Israeli artists:
We, as Israeli artists opposed to the occupation, must act according to the following guidelines:
Declare everywhere that Israel is an apartheid state, violating international law as far as it concerns the Occupied Territories.
Demand the immediate lifting of the siege on Gaza
Reject the bear hug offered by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking Israeli ambassadors not to attend officially the Homage to Tel Aviv events or any other cultural events.
Declare that the IDF is an immoral occupying army, playing a pivotal role in racism-based land grab.
Declare that the city of Tel-Aviv is not so hip but in fact a racist city, and declare that the gradual persistent expulsion the city is committing against Jaffa’s Arab residents must end now, or it shall remain a lasting sign of infamy
Understand the objectives of the boycott campaign against the State of Israel (BDS), and conduct a dialogue with the initiators of the boycott campaign, in order to see how artistic freedom can be maintained while we are raising international awareness of the gross injustice in our country (by the way, we can allow ourselves to receive funding from the state, but just as the anti-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox Israelis do not change their beliefs because of such funding, neither should we).
Declare, as artists, our infidelity to the state until the complete ending of the occupation and the racist apartheid regime.
Promise to strive for just peace and equality between Jews and Palestinians, within either a two-state framework or a single bi-national, multi-cultural, multi-genderial framework, for the benefit of the Jew and the Palestinian and the foreigner living here side by side and one among the other in our common land.
Our fellow people of arts and culture, dance and cinema, TO BE OR NOT TO BE HUMAN – that is the question. There is no middle ground. This difficult time of choice is often discussed in artistic works. When Netanyahu, Yaalon, Livnat, Yishai and Lieberman head our government, when five million people live under an occupation denying them their civil rights, and when a million and a half people live in the world’s largest pen, one cannot evade the moment of truth. The occupation and the racism are not trickle-down evil, they are the deluge itself, pouring down on our beloved common land. Artists may not have the power to stop the deluge, but they must not be part of it. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, they are the ones who can build Noah’s Ark, which will cherish the values of justice and solidarity until the sky is clear again.
Udi Aloni is an Israeli-American film maker, whose works include “Left,” “Local Angel” and “Forgiveness.” He can be reached through his website.