May 21, 2009

Tali Shalom-Ezer is an idiot (at best)

As you know, The Edinburgh Film Festival accepted a petty donation of £300 from the Israeli embassy. That caused a justifiable outcry, and a campaign, organized by the Scottish PSC, to get the festival organizers to return the money. The public pressure was helpful (yes it does happen! Not every public official is Tony Blair). The money was returned. One of the public figures backing the campaign was British Director Ken Loach. Loach stated unambiguously and courageously that "The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable." According to the festival organizers, Loach's stand made them change their mind. (Sky Digital, May 20, 2009)

Now, the money was supposed to be used to fund the travel of debutant Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer. In response she said,
"Loach's support in this act is an attempt to remove Israel from the cultural discourse, and this is painful. I consider this an attempt to destroy every chance for communication, and something that strengthen alienation and hatred. " (Ynet)
That silly statement wasn't enough. She also called Loach "a racist", and added that
"generalising all citizens of Israel as warmongers and racists is racism and outrageous, and as members of the peace camp we are personally hurt by it." (The Scotsman, 21 May 2009)
To be clear, nobody called for boycotting Shalom-Erez's film. Indeed the festival organizers assured the press that they would pay for her travel. Except now Shalom-Ezer doesn't want to come.

1. Shalom-Ezer thinks she has a moral right to demand that her public appearances be sponsored by the state of Israel. That's an extreme level of privilege that got to Shalom-Ezer's head. Stay home, Tali! The world's cultural scene will survive.

2. Shalom Ezer thinks that not taking money from the state of Israel, and refusing to adorn the festival with the sponsorship of a state that just murdered over 1400 people in Gaza, is racism and demonization. Just to take an example far from the killing fields, Israel forbids its Palestinian citizens to import children books in Arabic (AFP Aug 11 2009). But that is OK. Not taking Israel's money is however racism! Not only you cannot criticize Israel, you have to invite sponsorsip from it. Heck, any city that doesn't have a bust of Ariel Sharon in its main square is racist!

3. Shalom-Ezer considers applying pressure on the state of Israel a racist act that "generalizes" against all citizens of Israel. Obviously she does not include Israel's 20% Palestinian citizens in this "all." They are citizens, but they do not count. Saying anything about Israel doesn't apply to them. Nor do the 2.5 million Palestinians who would be citizens if Israel were not a country founded on racist principles count. Needless to say, the refugees do not count. The only people who count, who are "generalized" about by attacks on Israel, are Jewish-Israelis. And then she has the nerve to call Loach racist!

4. Shalom-Ezer sees no difference between the state of Israel and Jewish-Israelis. Anything you say about the first applies to the second automatically. If you describe the massacre of Gaza as a criminal atrocity, you are ipso facto describing all Jewish-Israelis as murderers. And therefore you are a racist. That logic may seem insane to most people outside of israel. The Scottish PSC responded wisely by calling out Shalom-Ezer's warped worldview:
More interestingly, the woman who made the film to be shown at the EIFF, towards which we need take no position, has accused Ken Loach of ‘racism’ in today’s Scotsman. Those familiar with Ken Loach’s films see a body of work that challenges all types of oppression and celebrates the human struggle for freedom. The grounds on which Ms. Tali Shalom-Ezer levels the accusation is that, "Generalising all citizens of Israel as warmongers and racists is racism and outrageous…”. That would be racist, if it were true. It is the opposite of the truth. Israel is a violent, aggressive apartheid state; all citizens of Israel are not ‘warmongers and racists’. Scottish PSC, working in a country that is committing terrible crimes against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as helping to arm the murderous Israeli Army, salutes those Israelis who actively oppose the crimes of their government. (SPSC)
It is worth thinking how Shalom-Ezer came to her amazing understanding. The most favorable option is that she is an idiot (hence the title). I'm afraid however this is not the case. Israeli consciousness and identity are bound up with the state. It is therefore impossible to describe the state of Israel's actual racist policies and laws, or the actual actions of its army, without attacking the identity of many if not most Jewish Israelis. The integration between the racist state and the national identity of so many of its Jewish citizens is itself an outgrowth of widespread racism. 94% of Israeli-Jews supported to carnage in Gaza (Jan 14, Jerusalem Post), even when its real dimensions were already public knowledge (notice how Israeli newspapers describe Israeli-Jews as "the public"). Over half of the Jewish population in Israel believes the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to national treason (YNet, March 27, 2007). Thus Israel unfortunately is not only a racist state, but also a state of racists and warmongers. To be sure, The Scottish PSC is taking the right stand. Israel doesn't equal Israelis. It doesn't equal Jewish-Israelis. It is important to understand, precisely as Shalom-Ezer doesn't, that there is a category difference between the state and its citizens, a difference that does not depend on numbers, and to salute, as the SPSC does, the small minority of Jewish-Israelis who practice that difference and seek to widen it (many of whom support the boycott).

But we shouldn't pass over such idiotic accusations of racism with too much leniency. It is actually quite simple. If you deeply identify with a racist institution to the point of experiencing peaceful pressure on that institution as an attack on your identity, you are a racist!

Shalom-Erez is not only concerned with her own career. She is defending Israeli racism because she identifies with it. She uses her art, willingly, to undermine attempts to put pressure on Israel. Her description of herself as "member of the peace camp" is a testimony to how debased that term is in Israel. For strategic reasons, I think that PACBI's decision to avoid targeting individual Israeli artists is the right one. But strategy apart, her own words describe her as exactly the kind of Israeli artist that it would be completely moral and appropriate to ban.

Think about it that way. If Shalom-Erez had to go to Ramallah to get a ceriticate from PACBI before she were allowed to participate in international events, she would still have more freedom of movement, more artistic freedom, and more opportunities to develop her career than 99% of Palestinians. Not to mention that her art would be better for it.

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