AIPAC met for it’s annual policy conference in Washington DC this week. Obama was not the only one who graced the lobby with his presence- Code Pink held a counter-demonstration across the street from the conference, part of Pink’s Move Over AIPAC event. Ava and Keren were there to ask conference-goers why they were at AIPAC and what they believe are the real obstacles to peace in Palestine/Israel. Note the AIPAC representative who admonishes one participant for engaging in discussion with members of Code Pink (who, by the way, offered their stage and microphone to AIPACers as they exited the conference). Oh, and the Himalayas apparently have been transfered to the US.
I boiled some eggs this afternoon, not because I’m religious, but I just really like hard boiled eggs. As a kid when I’d go to Seder’s at my Safta’s house, I would pretty much pass on everything on the Seder plate except Matzo and hard boiled eggs (oh and that kid-friendly wine stuff). Being a vegetarian, I considered those the best parts. My dad emailed me today to wish me a happy Passover. He’s in Haifa tonight, at Safta’s- I didn’t ask whether they’d be having a Seder tonight. Since my aunt’s death and the “Yerida” of my mom, my siblings and I, there aren’t many left for family holidays. I wrote to my dad that Wyn and I would symbolically eat some eggs and asked whether celery would suffice as a substitute for something (Maror? Carpas? I could never remember the difference). He asked that I pick up some Matzos too which I still need to do.
In honor of Passover I went to see Miral. Yes- I had heard some negative things about the film, about it being too “Hollywood” but I still wanted to see it- so that when the statistics come back and it’s labeled a “tanked” film, at least I can say that I tried. It wasn’t a crowded theater, but it wasn’t empty either. I tried to size up the audience as I sat down before it got dark- who here was Palestinian, who was clueless and who was here to prove this movie wrong. I even brought a notebook with me and thought I’d use it to take notes. When it got dark I realized that wouldn’t be happening. Preview after commercial passed till the point where I found myself forgetting what I was there to watch, and then a map appears and familiar names appear with it “Mt. Hermon” “Ramallah” “Jerusalem”.
The narrative begins in 1947, with a Christmas party attended by Hind Husseini. Shortly thereafter she finds and takes home a group of 55 surviving orphans from the Deir Yassin massacre and founds the Dar al-Tifl school. Then footage of the Declaration of Israeli Independence at the United Nations appears. Then footage of the 1948 war. Real footage. Not “Hollywood: footage. And I’m emotional. I suddenly realize how badly I want to be back there and I imagine that there are people in this theater who want to go back there too and cannot.
As far as the disjointedness of the film, I get peoples’ complaints. Beginning in 48, we then transition to 67, then the First Intifada as we transition between protagonists- the headmistress of an orphanage, a troubled young mother, a head nurse turned prisoner serving three life sentences for attempting to blow up a movie theater and finally Miral, a 17 year old Dar al-Tifl student who is trying to understand what her role is within the larger context of Palestinian resistance to the occupation. So yes, we transition between different time periods, different characters, and different plots- but I think that’s the way most films based on biographies end up- sometimes a life story is better suited to being condensed into a book than a film.
Do I think this movie will do well financially? No. Will it win any awards this next year? Probably not. Will Zionists watch this movie and have a change of heart, and recognize Palestinians as individuals with histories, families and aspirations for education, statehood and self-governance? Not likely. But here’s the issue- in the theater today there were some people who didn’t know what to expect. It was a Sunday evening and they felt like seeing a movie and either this one piqued their interest, or they just missed the movie they wanted to see, or they like Freida Pinto in Slumdog and ended up seeing Miral. They sat in the theater where Miral played and for approximately two hours they heard something different. They saw images of narratives that are so well obscured in American education that they could very well be shocking to some viewers. They might have learned that many Palestinian children were orphaned and that Palestinians are subjected to night raids, torture, and are often killed while protesting. Maybe they learned that there are Christian and Muslim Palestinians and that they are united in their same struggle against Jewish occupation. Perhaps there were some viewers who until Miral didn’t know who the Palestinians are. Well, now they know- a little.
Wyn and I discussed our impressions of the film on the walk home and while we both agreed that this was not a fantastic film, we were glad we had seen it. When we got home Wyn stepped outside to smoke a cigarette on the porch and I opened the fridge. Unceremoniously, I removed one hard-boiled egg and ate it quietly with my hands in the kitchen. To remember the hard times in Egypt. To remember the hard times in Gaza, and in Jenin and in Deheisha and in Haifa.
Ma Nishtana Haleila Haze?
Really great interview in which Helen Thomas opens up and defends her reasoning behind the notorious YouTube video that cost her her half a century position at the White House. The interviewer, Hochman, did piss me off with the question about her sanity.
“PLAYBOY: Don’t take this the wrong way, but the question many people have is, Has Helen Thomas lost her mind? You’re 90, after all. Do you still have all your faculties?”
But have no fear, Helen gets right back at him
“THOMAS: I resent that question! I thoroughly resent it. Why are you interviewing me if I’m crazy? It wouldn’t be worth it to you, would it? …They want to know if I’m crazy? You have to be crazy to criticize Israel? You have to be crazy to criticize tyranny? I learned before Hitler that you have to stand up for something. You have to stand up. We always have to take a stand against human tyranny wherever it occurs.”
You tell ‘em girl.
I do think that Hochman is out to make her sound nutty (with the many asides about her offering him drinks, sandwiches etc), and anti-semitic, but ends up having a really hard time proving his point. Thomas remains lucid, eloquent and on-topic throughout the lengthy interview. What’s most inspiring to me is that she remains unapologetic. Despite having lost her career (and I think it’s more than just a career) and knows that after she’s gone people will still cling to that YouTube video and consider her some kind of high-up anti-semitic reporter, she does not apologize for injustice.
Miral and the MPAA
The extraordinary revolution we’ve witnessed in places like Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya has awakened the optimist in all those who work for peace and freedom. This movement has happened, in large part, due to brave, educated young people taking control of their lives and embracing democracy in a deeply inspiring way. This is their moment in time. And their actions will lead to a positive transformation of a very volatile region.
As a filmmaker, I wanted to open a dialogue with young people in the U.S. about one complicated and often misunderstood part of the region — Israeli/Palestinian relations. Understanding this conflict requires not only historical perspective, but our ability to look beyond countless negative images and perceptions and one side usually portrayed as “the bad guy.”
Our film, based on Rula Jebreal’s novel, tells the story of Miral, a young Palestinian girl (played bySlumdog Millionaire‘s Freida Pinto) who grows up in East Jerusalem against the backdrop of war and occupation. From the age of five, Miral is raised at Dar El-Tifel, Hind Husseini’s orphanage and school, where she is taught that education is the only way toward lasting peace. As she moves into young adulthood, Miral gradually awakens to her people’s struggle and ultimately must choose between a path of violence or a path of peace.
As a father of five, I made Miral for young people. The heart of this story is all about the lasting impact of education and the journey of a relatable main character, who tries on several different approaches to solve the problems in her life, including violence, but in the end, falls back on the ideals she learned as a child. This is, in my humble opinion, an exemplary message for our time, especially for young people — whether they live in Brooklyn, Jerusalem, or anywhere in between.
This is why I was shocked and saddened when the MPAA awarded Miral an “R” or restricted rating. As a filmmaker, I took great pains to tailor Miral to the intended audience and frame this material appropriately within the guidelines of a PG-13 rating. I made very clear aesthetic choices so we feel the impact but never see anything that could be construed as problematic or gratuitous. It was the first time where I was conscious of the MPAA during the filmmaking process, and steered clear of anything that might result in an “R” rating.
The “R” rating, I suspect, was given to Miral because of two important plot points that deal with the abuse of women. There is an implied molestation mostly learned through dialogue and one shot of a man getting out of bed. There is no nudity or simulated sex. There is also a scene where Miral is interrogated by police and caned. This is illustrated with a sound, and a subsequent bruise on her back in another scene. Again, no nudity or anything too graphic. There is no profanity in the film, except for two uses of the word “shit” by a character who gets reprimanded for saying it.
I have seen PG-13 films where entire armies or villages are destroyed without an ounce of remorse or understanding. Women are objectified constantly in PG-13 movies, and such objectification is rewarded by the MPAA in the form of a friendlier rating. Our film tells a real story with real consequences and offers real solutions for one of our most challenging problems — and it is punished. It baffles the mind.
It’s rare for a film this discrete and mild to suffer a restrictive rating. It seems the MPAA is doing so at a great disservice to those it is trying to protect. Stylized violence is accepted (and encouraged) no matter how brutal, and whether or not consequences are faced. It seems ironic that young adults are prohibited from seeing films, which contextualize violence, and yet are so privy to violent, unfiltered images beaming from their home televisions and computer screens.
Again, my goal for Miral was communicating about young people, to the young people in a manner that is appropriate for the young people. My producing partner Jon Kilik and I have appealed the MPAA’s rating. It is our hope those who have great power to determine what is and what isn’t appropriate for young adults will look inside their hearts and realize that as young people fight for freedom in one part of the world, our sons and daughters here at home will be afforded the opportunity to learn more about who those people are.
Julian Schnabel, Director
Preface: I don’t love this article. There is a strange underlying suggestion that Israel is “going wrong”- that its origins were somehow purer- with politicians who weren’t racist, schools which were not indoctrinating children and that it was led by spiritual leaders who really just wanted to hold hands and pray next to each other in Jerusalem. Sorry- don’t buy it.
But what I do admire is the ability to grasp that as international opinion seems to be turning away (albeit slowly) from the idea of Israel as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, so has Israeli paranoia-nationalism. And the push for democracy by neighbors who for decades were considered “not ready for democracy” makes Israeli extremist turns of the past couple of years all the more painfully obvious.
Above the Fray: Israel, where are you?
02/25/2011 16:15 By ALON BEN-MEIR
The Arab world is determined to lead their countries to a more positive future, but Israel appears leaderless, with no vision and apathetic.
While the Arab world joins together in a call for democracy, Israel’s democracy is unraveling.
As the Arab world demands accountability from its leaders, Israel’s leaders are facing investigations and indictments.
As the Arab world demands greater social mobility and economic opportunity, Israel’s gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. The people in the Arab world appear determined to proactively lead their countries to a more positive future, but Israel appears floundering, leaderless, with no vision and, most troubling of all, apathetic.
Where are the Israelis who should be demanding change that leads to peace and prosperity for all? Where are the leaders? They are preoccupied with staying in power, diverting indictment and shuffling to find a voice.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s shameful systematic dismantling of the Labor Party he once led is indicative of the state of leadership and politics today. He set aside the values and positions for which he was elected to maintain a position of power and bolster an ego that appears to inflate with each passing day.
Perhaps he has learned from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose second term has been an exercise in futility. He has no policy beyond staying in power. Any policy he might pursue is beholden to the veto of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an individual reviled by much of the world for his racist views, and who, this month, may face a potential indictment.
THE OPPOSITION is, sadly, also leaderless and disparaged. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni cannot instill party discipline nor generate sufficient confidence in her leadership from the public. The dearth of any credible and clear ideas from Kadima is disheartening. MK Shaul Mofaz’s comments last week that the US should withhold military aid to Egypt – at a time when this aid serves as a critical incentive to maintain cooperation between the Egyptian military, the US and Israel – was particularly perplexing. Last week, Kadima director- general Moshe Shehori was arrested on suspicion of corruption. Indeed, Kadima looks very little different from its counterparts in the government; and the country is left with little prospect of rising visionary leaders.
Where are the soldiers? Those who have spoken out against the occupation are now defending themselves against accusations of treason. Soldiers involved in such groups as Breaking the Silence have been labeled traitors for criticizing and condemning certain actions by the IDF. At the same time, officers and combat units are becoming increasingly ideological and religious when in fact national security depends on nonideological soldiers.
In 1990, 2.5 percent of infantry officers were religious. By 2007, that number had jumped to 31.4%. Meanwhile, religious preparatory programs are producing far more recruits for infantry units than others. A full 80% of religious graduates join combat units, compared to 40% of all soldiers. IDF soldiers have always fulfilled their duties with dignity and discipline, and they must never be dragged into the political morass.
Where are the mothers and fathers? They are watching as their children are indoctrinated with zealotry and even bigotry. Just over a year ago, a poll conducted by Ma’agar Mohot indicated that nearly 50% of high-school students did not believe that Arabs should have the same rights as Jews. Eighty percent of religious high school students supported this view.
Meanwhile, 48% of all high-school students said that after being drafted, they would not obey orders to evacuate settlements. As an unidentified Education Ministry official told reporters upon the poll’s publication: “This poll shows findings which place a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth.”
Rather than address the problem, the Education Ministry is exacerbating it. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar recently announced plans to bring school children to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, in what amounts to an unnecessary and untimely provocation aiming to bolster nationalistic – and rightwing – perspectives among youth.
Where are the peace activists? They are few in number, and are scrambling to find a voice.
Demonstrations have looked more like potlucks than protests. With the Labor Party decimated, Meretz marginalized and Kadima in perpetual disarray, there is no home for the so-called peace camp.
A majority of Israelis say they want peace, but when presented with an historic opportunity to make peace through the Arab Peace Initiative, 56% of the public oppose it. The peace process doesn’t even appear on the radar.
WHERE ARE the spiritual leaders? They are sowing seeds of division rather than coexistence.
Last week, 70 rabbis joined together to support Rabbi Dov Lior, who is facing arrest for refusing to answer questions regarding his endorsement of a book that advocates the killing of innocent non-Jews during wartime.
In December, much attention was paid to the 50 rabbis who signed a letter opposing Jews renting homes to non-Jews. Another letter, signed by nearly 30 rabbis’ wives, opposed Jews dating Arabs or even working in the same vicinity as non-Jews.
Meanwhile, more progressive religious leaders appear rather quiet, focusing on their efforts to gain greater status, including the sanctioning of non-Orthodox religious ceremonies such as weddings. Rather than part of the solution, spiritual leaders are all too often becoming part of the problem of endemic complacency.
Where are the entrepreneurs? They are content and aloof. Life for successful businessmen is good. The economy grew by an impressive 5.4% last year, including 7.8% in the fourth quarter. However, the latest National Insurance Institute report indicated that 23% of the population lives below the poverty line, and another 29% risks joining them. The average salary of senior executives at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s 25 largest companies amounts to 94 times that of the national average.
Furthermore, the middle class is rapidly shrinking. In 1988, the middle class amounted to 33% of Israelis; by 2009 it had dropped to 26.6%.
According to the Gini coefficient of inequality, which reached 39.2% in 2010, the country can now be considered one of the most disparate societies. But the disadvantaged also remain quiet and alarmingly complacent.
FINALLY, WHERE are the students and the vibrant academic community? More than a thousand university students marched in Jerusalem in November to protest government stipends for yeshiva students. But where are they to oppose a disastrous foreign policy? Why aren’t they in the streets protesting against government policy that could usher in violent conflict by insisting on maintaining the status quo? And where are the academics? Israeli scholars are hailed for their ingenuity and imagination.
Nine Israelis have won Nobel Prizes.
However, renowned scholars are too rarely heard using their intellect and university pulpit in a consistent way to rally support for policies that lead to a better future. Why aren’t they raising their voice collectively, protesting the madness of a government that has lost its moral compass? The emptiness of Kikar Rabin is frightening.
Without change, the worrisome trends in society will become entrenched, and the region will be headed toward another round of bloodshed that could be sparked at any moment. Israel’s national anthem conveys an eternal “hope” and its founding father, Theodor Herzl, famously captured the ethos of Zionism by declaring “if you will it, it is no dream.” Today, hope is in short supply, and few are demonstrating any will to create a better future.
If the country does not change course, and begin to make what appears now to be a dream into a reality, it could experience a nightmare of drastic proportions.
The writer is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2011
From: Judith Butler
Subject: censorship at the NY LGBT Center
Dear Glennda Testone,
I am writing to communicate my outrage and sorrow that our movement has come to this point where it refuses to house an organization that is fighting for social justice. I was appalled to see the very ignorant and hateful messages that supported your center’s decision to ban Siegebusters from holding an event on the topic of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace and other progressive Jewish organizations with whom I have spoken are in strong disagreement with your action. It is simply wrong to assume that housing an event that discusses the BDS movement is anti-Semitic in content or implication. There are increasing numbers of Jewish intellectuals and cultural workers (including Adrienne Rich and myself) who support the BDS movement, including a vocal group from Israel that calls upon the rest of us to put international pressure on their country (including Anat Matar, Rachel Giora, Dalit Baum – one of the founding queer activists there, and Neve Gordon). There are also queer anarchist and human rights groups in Israel- including “Who Profits?” – who support BDS and who are struggling against illegal land confiscations in Jerusalem and the building of the wall or who, at least, would support an open forum to discuss the pros and cons of this strategy, non-violent, to compel the State of Israel. But there is, perhaps most importantly as well a network of Palestinian Queers for BDS that have an important and complex analysis of the situation, calling for BDS as a sustained non-violent practice to oppose the systematic disenfranchisement of Palestinians under the Occupation. It is surely part of our global responsibility to understand this position and to make alliances across regional divisions rather than stay within the parochial assumptions of our own neighborhoods.
The idea that BDS is somehow anti-Semitic misunderstands the point and is simply false. It is a movement that is in favor of putting pressure on states that fail to comply with international law and, in this case, that keep more than 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank under the military control of Israel, which also maintains political control over their survival, mobility, employment, health, and elections – and this has been amply demonstrated. This is a human rights and social justice issue about which we all have to learn. And it seems to me that just as the very notion of freedom must include sexual freedom, and the very notion of equality must include sexual and gender equality, so must we form alliances that show that our concern with social justice is one that will include opposition to all forms of state subjugation and disenfranchisement. We now have many organizations that affirm the interlinking networks of subjugation and alliance: queers against racism, queers for economic justice. We must oppose all forms of anti-Semitism to be sure (as a Jewish queer who lost part of maternal line in the Nazi genocide against the Jews, I can and will take no other stand). But we must extend our critique of racism to all minorities whose citizenship is unfulfilled, suspended, lost, or compromised, which would include the Palestinian people in the last several decades.
The Siegebuster event is one that would simply seek to inform the LGBTQ community of a set of political viewpoints. No one who goes to the event has to agree with the viewpoint put forward there, and neither does the center. By hosting this event, your center would simply be acknowledging that this is an important global issue in which LGBTQ people are invested and are now currently debating. The Center thus would agree that we all need to hear this viewpoint in order to make more informed decisions about the situation. I fear that to refuse to host the event is to submit to the tactics of intimidation and ignorance and to give up on the important public function of this center. I urge you to reconsider your view. These are important matters, they concern us all, and we look to you now to show that the LGBTQ movement remains committed to discussing social justice issues and will not be intimidated by those who seek to expand the powers of censorship precisely when so much of the rest of the world is trying to bring them down. There is still time for you to act with courage and wisdom.
University of California, Berkeley
Visiting Professor, New School for Social Research (Spring, 2011)
Urban Outfitters has a rocky track record when it comes to Israel and its supporters. Back in 2007, the popular clothing retailer of all things “Urban” (and yes, their clients are mostly middle class white suburbanites), was pressured into removing what they called “an Anti- War Scarf” from the company’s website because to many, this was a direct reference to keffiyehs (and hence to Arafat and hence to Terrorism… and the stereotypes continue). Delia’s, another retailer geared towards young girls, released a similar product around the same time. Theirs was titled “Peace Scarf” and it too came under attack, mostly from a blog titled Little Green Footballs which bombarded company headquarters with demands it remove the item.
A year after Urban Outfitters removed the oh-so-controversial scarf loosely based on a keffiyeh from its website, the “Victimized” t-shirt appeared on the company’s website…
…Opening up a whole new can of worms for defenders of Israel. Ha’aretz covered the story, quoting Ami Cohen- American Apparel (a competitor of Urban Outfitters) Tel-Aviv representative saying “This company has a history of coming into conflict with Jews.” In the same article, fashion designer Leah Weiss (whose work I was unable to locate online) said this T-Shirt was an obvious expression of support for “Terrorism” and that she had “joined a Facebook group to boycott Urban Outfitters and get rid of their clothes”. As of February 19,2011 “Boycott Urban Outfitters” facebook group had 1,431 members- many of whom seem to have joined in response to UO CEO Dick Hayes’ financial support of homophobic Senator Rick Santorum. But we know there is at least one member of this group who has joined because of what she sees as UO’s anti-Israel stance.
So when I came across Urban Outfitters’ Spring 2011 catalog shoot I wasn’t surprised by the locale of choice- Tel-Aviv. “We were craving some warm weather, so we headed to sunny Tel Aviv with photographer Marlene Marino to shoot our early spring catalog” claims Urban Outfitters on its Facebook page. An obvious Public Relations attempt to mend Urban’s relationship with Israelis (who have yet to be graced by their own Urban Outfitters in Israeli malls), the shoot depicts Urban’s models frolicking on the beach, shopping in downtown Tel-Aviv and standing by recognizable landmarks and in front of Hebrew advertisements- to ensure that the location of this shoot isn’t lost on anyone. Indeed, the shoot caught the attention of pop culture birthrighter blogger Daniel Ucko who expressed his excitement that he was able to quickly recognize some of the locations because he had seen the same sites during his Birthright trip. And Facebook fans of Urban Outfitters are also excited about the choice of location:
“why wont u open a store here we’re waiting for u…please come!!!”
“this is so wonderful i’m going to die.”
“Perfect pics. Tel Aviv is amazing city!”
“tel aviv is beautiful!”
“ooooooh i wanna go to Tel Aviv for my future honeymoon!! ”
“Tel Aviv is absolutely gorgeous. All of Israel is. The pictures look amazing ”
“I couldn’t not like this group once I found out you had a photo shoot in my favorite city on earth! I love you more than ever Urban Outfitters!”
“whan will we see the “urban” store in israel?! Can’t wait!!! gotta love israel…..Represent!!! ♥”
… You get the picture…
Urban Outfitters is attempting to win over the hearts of yet another middle class white group- young Israelis and young American Jews who love Israel. Even the fashions seem to have been altered to fit the location…
Settler anyone? Let’s call Urban Outfitters on this. If “Anti-War Scarves” can be removed from the store’s shelves and T-Shirts of Palestinian resistance are labeled as calls to terrorism while normalizing photo shoots, depicting Israelis as “regular young people” who go shopping and swimming instead of occupiers, than we can at least let UO execs know how we feel about this type propoganda. Let’s make some noise of the company’s Facebook page and let them know that we too will be boycotting a retailer who normalizes the Israeli existence and thus the repression of Palestinians all in the sake of “craving some warm weather”… i.e. “trying to make nice with those wealthy Zionists who will like us better and buy more of our pseudo-retro Made in the Third World crap”…