To encourage students to view Israel as a progressive nation and foster dialogue about its evolving social policies, Boston University Students for Israel hosted filmmaker Michael Lucas at BU Monday and screened his documentary entitled Undressing Israel: Gay Men In The Promised Land.
About 20 students came to the College of Arts and Sciences to view the film, which portrayed increasing acceptance and prevalence of gay life in Tel Aviv. Attendees were able to ask Lucas about the documentary in a question and answer session after its conclusion.
“I’ve been going to Israel for such a long time,” Lucas said. “It’s a very open society toward gay people. It’s annoying to hear all the time, why am I going there, that I should be careful, gay life is probably very difficult.”
BUSI President Danny Hochberg, a School of Management sophomore, said the film provided insight into a largely unknown facet of Israeli culture.
“With the whole gender-neutral housing movement that’s going on at BU and all those barriers that students are crossing, I think that this event helped show how a country that a lot of BU students don’t really know about has made a great gay community in Israel,” he said.
Lucas said it was important to portray Israel in a positive light, which is BUSI’s primary goal.
“The only thing that you see on the news is about Israel and its Arab neighbors, and about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs,” Lucas said. “I wanted to bring gay tourists to Israel.”
BUSI member Raphael Fils, a College of General Studies sophomore, scheduled Lucas’ visit to BU after learning he was also screening his film at Northeastern University.
“It was a side of Israel people don’t normally hear about on campus,” Fils said. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show a lot of people how their misconceptions of Israel are not really true. It’s a gay-friendly place, and it’s really progressive.”
Lucas’ film claimed that over the past decade, the amount of openly gay couples in Israel has increased by about 80 percent. The film focused not only on improving political conditions for homosexuals in Israel, but also the rapid development of openly gay culture in the country.
“I encounter this question about why I didn’t show anything about military conflict,” Lucas said. “I think that’s quite ridiculous. It’s something to do with double-standards, it’s something to do with un-proportional criticism of Israel and a desire to put it down.”
Several journalists, including Sarah Schulman of the New York Times, and other critics of Israeli policy have claimed that the country is guilty of “pinkwashing,” a term used to describe Israel’s alleged advertisement of gay-friendliness to distract international attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“First of all, nobody’s giving the rights to gay people. The rights are taken, the rights are being fought for in courts,” Lucas said. “The theory is ridiculous, but it’s becoming bigger and bigger because it’s so convenient.”
Fils said he did not feel Lucas’ film, criticized for “pinkwashing,” was guilty of doing so.
“It’s OK to criticize Israel, because Israel’s not a perfect country, as other countries are not perfect,” he said. “To choose to view it as pinkwashing is not my intention to bring the film [to BU], and I don’t think that was the intention of Michael making the film.”
Both Fils and Hochberg said they aimed to draw a larger crowd to Lucas’ screening.
“We were hoping for more of the LGBTQ community to show up,” Hochberg said. “I wasn’t disappointed, I was more hoping to open the BU community’s eyes to what Israel has done to improve the gay community in Israel.”
Fils said several student organizations he attempted to collaborate with for the screening were unreceptive to his requests to do so, and declined to attend BUSI’s event.
“People think associating yourself with Israel on campus is a negative thing, and it really shouldn’t be,” he said. “People tend to focus on problems that Israeli has than rather focus on good parts. Every country has its problems, no country’s perfect, but also every country has its pluses, and this was a really great way to showcase Israel.”