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What Did You Do in the Loyalty Oath War?

In defense of Mike Leigh and other boycotters

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Mike Leigh.(Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

When famed British-Jewish filmmaker Mike Leigh canceled his visit to Israel this weekend in protest of the loyalty oath legislation and other “policies,” the consensus among the Jewish state’s cultural illuminati was that Leigh was punishing the wrong guys. “The students, teachers, artists and various professionals from these institutions who are waiting to hear you are not the elected government of Israel, nor are they responsible for its policies,” wrote the director of the Jerusalem film school where Leigh was supposed to speak. “By this boycott that you are effectively imposing in canceling the visit, you are creating an association between the cultural-artistic genre and the policies of the government and the military.”

As I’ll go on to explain, all that is debatable. But either way, Leigh is in fact sending exactly the right message to exactly the right audience.

It is hard to argue seriously that precisely such an association between Israel’s government and its artists doesn’t exist. In fact, the association is particularly strong in the movie industry, where the Israel Film Fund, established in 1979 by the Ministry of Education and Culture, has been a major backer of practically every major Israeli film produced in the last three decades.

Receiving government money doesn’t necessarily require or imply adopting the government line; some recent IFF-backed productions, most notably the Academy Award-nominated Ajami, have been openly critical of the Jewish state and its policies. But if the loyalty oath bill—the heinous legislation (heinous in my opinion, anyway; Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith would beg to differ), recently passed by the cabinet, that would require non-Jewish immigrants to pledge allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state—is any indication, Israel is well into the era of the ideological litmus test. Films are an obvious target: After Scandar Copti, Ajami’s Israeli-Arab co-director, stated that he did not feel like a representative of the State of Israel, some members of Knesset called on the government to change the criteria for awarding funding to artists. The National Union’s Michael Ben Ari captured the spirit most eloquently: “Support for a film should not be granted,” he said, “unless the editors, producers, directors, and actors sign a declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel, its symbols, and its Jewish-democratic values.” Anyone who thinks this is just empty political talk should again examine the rise of the loyalty oath from fringe idea to soon-to-be law.

Still, if Israel’s artists were affiliated with their government merely by merit of receiving public funds, then that would not be enough to indict them. It would be both silly and heartless to expect anyone to always place ideological purity above practical concerns.

However, my main argument against Israel’s directors and writers, its musicians and painters, and those patrons who support them, lies elsewhere. As a now-notorious Time cover story noted, the lion’s share of Israelis are deeply ensconced in a cocoon of comfort and apathy, going about their daily lives while largely ignoring the political realities thundering about them. Again, none but the most mindlessly dogmatic of demagogues would consider blaming normal people for wanting to lead normal lives. But Israelis—who have repeatedly proven themselves capable of terrific feats of willpower when the spirit moves them—must also learn to seriously contemplate the moral and practical implications of their government’s actions. This, of course, includes the artists.

All available evidence suggests that most Israelis are far from accepting this rudimentary civic responsibility. To cite just one baffling example: During August of 2006, 60 percent of Israelis expressed strong support for then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his military campaign against Lebanon; fewer than three weeks later, 68 percent replied that they were deeply unhappy with Olmert, suggesting that Israeli public opinion is unmoored, devoid of convictions, and ready to lend its support to whichever argument happens to sound more convincing at any given moment. The dramatic, and serial, rise-and-fall of powerful political parties over the last two decades—Tzomet, Shinui, the Retired People’s Party, and, to an extent, Kadima—speaks to the same sorry state.

Which brings us back to Mike Leigh. He—like the Pixies and Elvis Costello and numerous others who have recently canceled their visits to Israel—is telling those Israelis most likely to be critical of their government and its ruinous actions that meek protestation is no longer enough. If they want their society to be accepted for its robust democracy and its commitment to liberties, they must help it rid itself of loyalty oaths, a prolonged occupation, and other challenges to dignity and peace. In other words, if they want to be taken seriously, they must get serious.

Of course, Israelis, like people the world over, have the right to choose otherwise, to remain impassive as the Jewish and democratic state they’ve worked so hard to build betrays its most deeply held Jewish and democratic values. But if they do, they cannot expect to attract Mike Leigh or any other visitor of merit.

Mike Leigh Cancels Visit Over ‘Israeli Policies’ [JPost]
War of Words After Mike Leigh Cancels Israeli Trip [ArtsBeat]
Related: Under Oath [Tablet Magazine]
Family Matters [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: ‘Declaration of Loyalty’
Bibi Floats Oath Quid for Freeze Quo

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Liel: Isn’t it a bit unfair of you to quote Time magazine’s comment that “the lion’s share of Israelis are deeply ensconced in a cocoon of comfort and apathy, going about their daily lives while largely ignoring the political realities thundering about them,” while knowing that virtually 100% of Jewish Israelis either have a child, grandchild, nephew or niece, serving in the IDF. That hardly shields them from “the political realities thundering about them.”

This comes from the same general ignorance that feeds stories about Jews using blood of Christian babies for their matzo bread. British law requires the oath of loyalty from the new immigrants as well even if some of them are agnostics or atheists. Why he does not boycott British cinema? He is probably just not an educated person.

Liel, I think you’re being way too soft on Mike Leigh. Sure, he canceled his trip to Israel–but how much suffering, really, will that impose on those recalcitrantly complacent Israelis? Can we really expect them to see the light of his–and your–peaceful, tolerant wisdom if they are merely reviled and ostracized?

No, until you and Mike sign up with a bona fide terrorist organization–or perhaps join in on a pogrom or two–and start inflicting real punishment, I’m afraid these stiff-necked Je–er, Israelis will just never learn their lesson. What are you and he waiting for?

Tobias says:

“When famed British-Jewish filmmaker Mike Leigh canceled his visit to Israel this weekend in protest of the loyalty oath legislation and other “policies,” the consensus among the Jewish state’s cultural illuminati was that Leigh was punishing the wrong guys.”

MIke Leigh is British and he is a filmaker, and he is famous among some people, BUT HE IS NOT JEWISH.

His family changed its name from “Lieberman” to Leigh in order not to be associated with Jews.

He is more in common with David Irving than he does with Jews. They both boycott and hate the Jewish State.

Shriber says:

Liel, the war with Hezbollah was started by Hezbollah’s murdering and kidnapping Israeli soldiers who were on Israeli soil.

This is called an invasion. What country wouldn’t defend itself against invaders?

Spnoza says:

“Or any other visitor of merit.” More like, or any other overrated darling of the far-left British intelligentsia whose overriding concern is what the Guardian might say.

Shmuel says:

Please. Liel, lay off already. You are welcome to your cozy, left wing views from afar. You have already told us how terrible Jerusalem is. And now….this awful, oppressive “oath” which any normal country might have (I think it is stupid, but is surely nothing terrible).

You left Israel. You have chosen not to come back (at least not yet). So please, focus a bit more on the problems you have in NYC.

I am almost convinced that Leigh agreed to come only in order to then publicly cancel. The school was very foolish to invite Mike Leigh who signs every petition against Israel and has never, to my mind, expressed anything positive about the country and its culture. Israeli cultural institutions need to stop setting themselves up this way.

I don’t recall Mike Leigh protesting his own country’s undemocratic oath required of newly naturalised citizens who must swear or affirm: “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.” Followed by the weaker language pledge “I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”

As you know, the UK is both democratic (represented by Parliament and its laws) and a Christian (CoE) Monarchy (that is above the law of the Parliament and hence anti-democratic) and yet primacy (“true allegiance”) is given to the anti-democratic and established-religion monarch.

Maybe he should protest his own British Government’s wars in Iraq and Afganistan, its just more anti-Israel Jews who are drunk on Palestinian propaganda and want to look balanced in front of their non-Jewish colleagues. Its same old anti-jewish Jews who allow themselves to be used to harm their own community under the guise of helping it.

Strangely, Angela Merkel’s thoughts this weekend are not being widely reported. To see:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101017/wl_afp/germanymuslimreligionimmigration

“Germany’s attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely, Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend, calling on the country’s immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values. [...] “We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here,” said the chancellor.

This is left-wing anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel – judging Israeli actions by standards that they do not use for other nations – as noted in a number of earlier comments, and in addition to the double standards, demonizing the State of Israel. This sort of hidden anti-Semitism is particularly common among extreme leftist of Jewish heritage.

Maybe those opposed to this sort of behavior should boycott the films of Leigh and the works of Pixies and Elvis Costello and the numerous others who have recently canceled their visits to Israel. And the same for those encouraging this boycotting and divestment from Israel – let us organize a boycott of their work.

Oh please. I’d have a little more respect for him if he’d start by boycotting England for killing hundreds of innocent Afghans and Iraqis. But that wouldn’t be so trendy would it be? He joins a list of others like him who originally agree to come to Israel then suddenly change their minds. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are aging has-beens.

perot junke says:

Noam Chomsky must be a very happy man, when reading all this bullshit,

Dubala says:

I am disgusted by the loyalty oath, but might Leigh have had more of an impact on the artistic community and other Israelis if he came spoke directly to the film community about their “so called” complacency? The argument that other countries have loyalty oaths is, by the way, a distraction and a red herring….this move by Natanyahu was based on nothing other than political jockeying between the arrogant dangerous duo of Natanyahu and Lieberman, and clearly undermines any peace process!

I just love it when everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, reminds us Israelis how we should feel or rather that we do not feel much of anything except for money and… Wow does that sound eerily anti-Semitic.

May I remind all of you not living here that we have almost daily protests about almost anything you can think of from offensive political foolishness to social short-comings. Regarding our not caring about the world around us and our any-moment-war that can start at anytime for any reason is truly an insult to all of us living in Israel. Our families are always at risk.

Clearly Liel you too lead many down a path that leads to misinformation about the sincerity of Israelis regarding peace and global terror. Don’t confuse living in the “here and now” to disinterest. We are all too keenly aware of the trials and tribulations of making the wrong choices in the place where second place is our doom.

As an experiement, change a few proper nouns around from Liel’s piece:

“the lion’s share of AMERICANS are deeply ensconced in a cocoon of comfort and apathy, going about their daily lives while largely ignoring the political realities thundering about them. ….AMERICANS —who have repeatedly proven themselves capable of terrific feats of willpower when the spirit moves them—must also learn to seriously contemplate the moral and practical implications of their government’s actions. This, of course, includes the artists.

All available evidence suggests that most AMERICANS are far from accepting this rudimentary civic responsibility. To cite just one baffling example:” Most AMERICANS “expressed strong support for then-PRESIDENT BUSH and his military campaign against IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN;” A few years later most “replied that they were deeply unhappy with BUSH, suggesting that AMERICAN public opinion is unmoored, devoid of convictions, and ready to lend its support to whichever argument happens to sound more convincing at any given moment.”

Actually, it’s fun to try Liel’s approach with pretty much every country in the world.. and it works too! Let start boycotting ourselves!

Dubala — The loyalty oaths of other Western democracies is entirely relevant. And, by the way, part of the definition of anti-Semitism as defined by the EU includes: “applying of it [Israel] double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

Ref: http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf

As to whether the gesture politics assist or hinder negotiations with the Palestinians, reasonable people can disagree. I have already expressed my view in the Lee Smith piece comments; and you have expressed yours here.

My previous comment in the Lee Smith piece was:

The oath was gesture politics to send 2 signals: first and foremost to the Palestinians and the American mediators that the issue of recognition of “The Jewish State” is not negotiating rhetoric, but a showstopper issue; and, second, to the Israeli Arab community that they can no longer play both ends of the stick — when there are 2 states, they become either minority citizens of Israel (with full civil rights) or citizens of Palestinian, but not both.

The tactic was, no doubt, “bull in a china shop” but sometimes that is what is needed in a negotiation, especially given that the “nice guy” approach has not worked between Barak and Arafat in 2000 or between Olmert/Livni and Abbas in 200x.

The underlying issue of “The Jewish State” is similarly straightforward. UN Resolution 181 in Nov 1947 explicitly called for the partition of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. 63 years later the Palestinians and the Arab world continue to reject this principle which is as crux a final issue as ensuring the eventual Palestinian state has contiguous land mass and a viable geographical linkage to Gaza.

Why? It is standard operating procedure for negotiators to bank wins and then go back for more. If Israel were to agree to an agreement with the Palestinians without this issue being explicitly addressed, the Palestinians will simply come back as members of the UN (and signators of the ICC) demanding the “right of return” which would then set in motion the undoing of Israel as the Jewish Homeland.

Therefore, the final status agreement must include recognition of Israel as The Jewish State and the renouncing any further claims or “right of return” to the Jewish state beyond whatever is negotiated in the (final) agreement with the Palestinians. That agreement will then be ratified by the UN in the resolution formally replacing UN Resolution 181 and recognizing The Palestinian State.

Dr. Michael Margaretten says:

ALL New immigrants should be required to take an oath of allegiance ti the State of Israel regardless of race or religion.

dubala says:

Ittai- Your argument would have a lot more credence if Natanyahu stopped taking Arab homes in East Jerusalem and actually stopped settlements on the West Bank.That might give the Palestineans a sense that he is serious about negotiations and a two state solution.

Blank Tablet: Distorted Defense of Boycott Discredits Publication

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/blank-tablet–distorted-defense-of-boycott-discredits-publication-15551

“By providing Liebovitz with a platform for his dishonest and skewed take on Israeli issues, Tablet calls into question not only the judgment of its editors but also their presumption that the website they are publishing offers a valuable perspective on Israel, Jewry, or a specifically Jewish journalism.”

Tablet: Brought to you by J Street and Soros.

Dubala — I agree that Israel should not be building in areas that will become part of the Palestinian State (including Sheikh Jarrah). Similarly, the Palestinians should limit the settlement freeze to those areas (and exclude the large Jewish settlements that will become part of the Jewish State. That would give the Israelis as sense that Abbas is serious about negotiations and a two state solution.

Carrie says:

I wish Liel Liebovitz would boycott Israel.

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What Did You Do in the Loyalty Oath War?

In defense of Mike Leigh and other boycotters

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