May 22, 2009

A modest apology to Shalom-Ezer

I would like to apologize.

Not only in my name, not only for euphemistically calling Sharon-Ezra an idiot (at best), but also in the name of all the people who fight for justice in the Middle East, Palestinians, Israeli-Jews, Scots, Ken Loach, everybody. I understand this is presumptuous and over the top. Who appointed me to apologize for you, you may ask? But deep regrets and repentance are overwhelming my soul. So bear with me.

On the web, the usual suspects accuse Ken Loach of "censoring" and calling for boycotting a poor little Israeli filmmaker. This is a barefaced lie, as neither Loach nor the SPSC said anything about any particular filmmaker. They only asked the festival to refuse money and sponsorship from Israel. But go deeper and the critics have a point. Not being able to receive travel funds from one's embassy is a hassle, and even a potential obstacle to the career of a young filmmaker. Worse, it is a trouble that Shalom-Ezer faces only because she happens to be Israeli. Saudi filmmakers can get money from their embassy and nobody will mutter a complaint. But Israel!!!

Tali Ezra-Shalom is just a young Jewish woman from Tel-Aviv who wants to make films about love, sex and relationships. She wants to make people laugh and cry and understand deep things about life, things that really have nothing to do with the fact that the artist is living in a racist society and enjoying the social, political and economic benefits that accrue to her on account of this racism because she is identified as Jewish in a sate built on Jewish privilege, benefits including the freedom to travel to Scotland and return, the pursuit of a world-class academic curriculum undisturbed by white phosphor bombs, commuting to her class from home without being stopped and harassed at checkpoints, studying in classrooms built on the land of a destroyed Palestinian village, benefits such as the ease of renting a flat in Tel-Aviv because she is not Arab, or passing academic aptitude tests that favored her over potential Palestinian candidates, and more.

Furthermore, as some event organizers rely on state funding to bring foreign artists, a ban on Israeli state money, even if it does not target art itself, might still somewhat restrict the availability of Israeli art in Europe and elsewhere. This is terribly unfair to Scottish or French or whatnot audiences, people who just want to come, see a movie, laugh, cry and learn deep things about life and love and relationships without being constantly reminded that they live in a global economic and political system structured by racism and violence in which they are implicated whether they admit it or not.

Let's face it. That is deeply unfair. It is also discriminatory. What about culture funded by U.S. money, stained with the blood of a million Iraqis?

We have to do better. To be concrete, I would like to give the example of the action of a now famous radical community in a certain town in the U.S.. During the height of the latest Israeli carnage in Gaza, the members debated how to take action to force Israel to stop. different peaceful actions were proposed, including blocking a highway to the airport, occupying the Israeli embassy, and more. But all were conscientiously rejected. The group intuitively grasped that blocking the highway would inconvenience innocent people, for example, businessmen without any connection to Israel could lose their flight. Not to mention that it would gratuitously discriminate against businessmen who scheduled their flight on a particular hour of the day. As for occupying the embassy, it would have inconvenienced visa applicants as well as innocent Israeli expats who came to regularize their marriage or other mundane affairs that had nothing to do with oppression of Palestinians. One person proposed a protest in front of the Israeli embassy, but that was rejected on the ground that other countries also committed crimes. In the end, the group opted for blocking traffic on a cul-de-sac leading to a deserted factory. The police let them keep the blockade for the full day, and that amazingly conscientious action grabbed major headlines without a single person being even mildly inconvenienced. indeed, it was immediately after that action that a chastened Olmert announced a cease-fire.

However much we care, we have no business intruding into people's lives, careers and leisure with our demands for justice. Even people who benefit from injustice have a fundamental right not to be bothered. We have no right making Tali Shalom-Ezra's career as a budding filmmaker ever slightly more complicated just because she depends on the wages of Israeli violence against Palestinians. A moral law is not moral unless it is universal. The principle of ethical universality give both the people of Tel-Aviv and the people of Qalqiliya equally, the right to forget and not be bothered by the fact that residents in Qalqiliya live inside an open air prison and cannot travel to Scotland to show their films without clearance from the Israeli torturers.

Besides, Tali Shalom-Ezer is a peacenik. I have it on good source that she even supports the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, with one condition, namely, that they don't return to Palestine, because that would make finding a parking place in Tel-Aviv even more horrendous than it already is, negatively impacting her next production.

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