I returned from Berlin this week to be confronted by the Jewish Chronicle’s front page about the Salford-born, eminent film director, Mike Leigh and his decision not to go to Israel to teach a masterclass in Jerusalem and Jenin.
I was somewhat disappointed that Leigh felt he had to make this decision. I don’t see Leigh as one of the self-haters or ‘as-a-Jews’ as they are sometimes termed. Here is a man who grew up in a very Jewish part of Manchester, was a member of Habonim and a Zionist. His mother spent her final days at the same Jewish care home as my own mother. He has always been regarded with pride by the Jewish community in Manchester and Salford.
So it is instructive to see how yet another prominent Jew has fallen out of love with Israel and has decided to publicly make a series of remarks which are gratuitous, hurtful and which completely misrepresent Israel, and characterise it in what is now a fashionable way for many in the media and arts who see the Middle East conflict, not for what it is, an existential struggle, but through the prism of their own political dogma.
I’ll take a while to dissect Leigh’s thought processes so we can better understand his decision.
The full article by Stephen Applebaum and Simon Rocker can be seen here.
Leigh calls Israel’s policies suicidal. In other words, he believes that the current government is taking Israel down a path towards some sort of disaster, even annihilation, perhaps. The recent loyalty oath law was, for him, ‘the last straw’.
So, it is the right-wing nature of the Netanyahu coalition and its policies which have led him to decide to become part of the boycott. He was already ‘uncomfortable’ about going, but this oath law really swayed it for him. Really? Not exactly the Nuremburg Laws is it.
We can see he was wrestling with his one-time Zionist credentials and his conscience about appearing to condone policies of a government at the opposite end of the political spectrum to his own views.
Now, I’m a bit of an old lefty myself, believe it or not, and during the 1980’s I decided I would not go to Israel because I disagreed with the settlement policy on the ‘West Bank’. I, of course, was, and remain a nonentity. My ‘boycott’ was personal. So I sort of understand where he is coming from as a public figure and a man of conscience. If it is ‘your people’ that you violently disagree with, then you feel a moral obligation to make a stand which you wouldn’t make for a country that you don’t identify with.
My ‘boycott’, however, showed that at some level I did still identify with Israel, and that I cared enough to make my little stand.
Things changed for me when I studied the history of the conflict and the Jewish people. I was finally radicalised by the discovery that, Israel, an imperfect country, was not in a struggle for land and borders, but was being demonised and delegitimised in an attempt to utterly destroy it. I also saw that this was part of a globalised and sanctioned neo-anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism. I saw that, as a Jew (yes, that phrase again) I was a target and a proposed victim of this insanity.
I saw that little or no space had been left for measured criticism of Israel. I saw that Israel had become the Jew amongst world states. And I saw that the cheer-leaders for this demonisation were mainly Islamic states with appalling human rights records, no democracy, no press freedom or free speech, religious intolerance, misogyny, often barbaric laws, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
At the same time I saw an imperfect Israel where there is democracy, a free press, freedom of religion, a robust and independent judiciary and free speech. I saw a country which despite its history and its imperfections has some of the finest universities in the world, is a leader in technology, medicine, environmentalism.
There are many things to dislike about some aspects of Israeli society, there are many societal problems, there is discrimination, poverty, crime, zealotry. In other words, Israel is like many other western democracies.
I saw an Israel prepared to make concessions and sacrifices for peace.
My personal boycott of Israel ended. Mike Leigh’s is just beginning, but is he motivated as I was 30 years ago?
Let’s continue with Leigh’s interview and statements he made.
As a member of the Jewish youth movement, Habonim, he believes he was ‘duped by Israeli propaganda’. Strange this. He was in Habo’ more than 50 years ago when there was no ‘occupation’ and no Palestinian cause. So what was he being duped about?
It appears that these feelings are related to ‘religion’. He calls organised religion ‘bull****’
So now we have a self-confessed liberal left atheist. Fine. Nothing wrong with that, although he needn’t be quite so disrespectful of 2000 years of Jewish scholarship, learning and community, let alone his own ancestors. After all, were it not for this ‘bull****’ he would not be here at all enjoying his nice life as a successful film director.
Presumably it’s not just Judaism he would describe in these terms.
Then we cut to the chase in this interview:
While cultural talks went on “in the nice cinematheques of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, it is hell on earth in Gaza and I wouldn’t want to be there basically”.
Ah! Now we really see where he is coming from. He has bought into the ‘liberal left’ Gaza myth. The myth that Gaza is hell, and it’s hell because of the Israelis.
Mr Leigh, who insisted that all his work was “unquestionably Jewish”, was dismissive about rocket attacks on Israel. “I don’t want to know about rockets,” he said. “What I am concerned with is humanity, is life being lived properly. And you cannot deal with this issue from an Israeli perspective and not from a Palestinian or a Gaza perspective. You simply can’t. And if you do it’s totally unacceptable. And that’s the bottom line.”
Agreed! And what is that Gaza perspective? Gaza which Israel evacuated completely several years ago and which was then used as a base to attack Israel. He doesn’t want to know about rockets. What the hell does he think caused the Gaza ‘misery’ in the first place. Does he want to put his fingers in his ears and jump up and down whilst Israelis have to run to bunkers like his parents in the blitz, and for much longer?
Does Leigh not realise that what is motivating Hamas and Hizbollah, even Fatah and certainly Ahmadinejad is religion, which he sees as ‘bull****’? Is there no contradiction there? Or is only Judaism faecal?
It’s not as if the eminent film director has put together a cogent argument to boycott Israel.
Like so many well-meaning people of conscience with left-wing political views, Mike Leigh remains ignorant of facts and perhaps a tad intimidated by his fellow luvvies on the Left.
Along with Cameron and Miliband and Clegg and so many others, he sees the Palestinians as victims and the Israelis as aggressors when the truth is, and always has been, largely the opposite.
Leigh has been in a struggle all his life, it seems, a struggle between his Jewish identity and his liberal left political views. Over time, as he has become more and more detached from his roots, he has increasingly moved towards the camp of those other Jews who even more stridently confess their hatred of Israel and their compassion for its enemies.
When it comes to ‘bull****’ Mike Leigh should take a long hard look at the propaganda, not of Israel, but of those who are determined to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.
Maybe when Gaza really is a prison camp, but one for the remnant of Israeli Jews, he will realise that the ‘bull***’ was actually on the other side and he is buried in it.