Opinion |

Israel's Minister of Provocation 'Liberates' Jerusalem, One Dress at a Time

On the red carpet at Cannes, Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev shoved Israel’s ownership of Jerusalem up the noses of the cultural elites of Europe and Israel

Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob
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Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev wearing a dress featuring the old city of Jerusalem arrives on May 17, 2017 for the screening of the film 'Ismael's Ghosts' (Les Fantomes d'Ismael) during the opening ceremony of the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France.
Regev really showed those lefty cultural elites: She is Jerusalem. On the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. May 17, 2017Credit: ANTONIN THUILLIER/AFP
Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob

Without saying a single word, Israel’s right-wing culture minister managed to overtake Netanyahu as the master of political iconography/imagery in Israel. Without an argument or any ifs ands or buts, Miri Regev, who arrived at the Cannes film festival in a dress bearing the skyline of Jerusalem’s Old City, succeeded in creating an icon - the perfect image of what Israel wants of the world: recognition of its ownership over Jerusalem.

Like Netanyahu’s facile Iranian bomb cartoon, theatrically presented to the world during his 2012 address to the UN, Regev succeeded in using an image to create a potent and memorable political moment/event. However, unlike Netanyahu, Regev is no longer bound by words, arguments or speeches.

Fifty years after Israel gained full control over Jerusalem, Regev has “liberated” the city once again, this time from its international and symbolic isolation, simply by bringing the unified city with her to an international event. However, unlike David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers at the Western Wall, it is Regev with her dress that is the icon, and what gives this image of Jerusalem its political force it is very placement in a “cultural elitist” stronghold like Cannes.

The imagery itself feels almost idolatrous, a hyper-realistic rendition of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock over the skyline of the Old City. Holy sites to Judaism and Islam represented in what seems to be a generic stock photo treated with a cheap Instagram filter. But as a print on a designer dress, on the red carpet of what can be viewed as a stronghold of the cultural left which Regev has built her career on demonizing, the cheesy image becomes a rich and potent political symbol for the culture minister.

Regev’s provocations seemed to have matured, and what began as angry flag waving and your run of the mill populism has now matured in a full-on aesthetic outlook of politics. Regev is no longer bound to the world of policy and government. Rather, she lives in the world of national icons and symbolic recognitions.

Regev’s dress does not represent anything or anyone, rather it is Regev herself that is the image. The photograph of the culture minister on the red carpet at Cannes is the political act itself: With her dress, Regev shoved a physical representation of Israel’s control of Jerusalem up the noses of the leftist cultural elites.

Internet memes of Regev's dress with the West Bank separation barrier, the iconic photograph by David Rubinger, and war in Gaza.Credit: Facebook

In her appearance Regev succeeded in show and doing what Netanyahu has struggled to say and explain: If you Europeans don’t want to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people in Israel, then you will get Miri Regev as the symbolic sovereign of Jerusalem.

That is exactly what makes Regev imagery so brilliant: Israeli control over East Jerusalem is, in fact, largely symbolic. Beyond the formal annexation, Israel struggles to provide even basic services to the Eastern part of the city, and in some neighborhoods does not even count residents in its internal data. But that is also exactly what makes the visual politics employed by Netanyahu - and raised into an art form with Regev - so brilliant: Focusing on the optics of control (like Israel’s “Flag Law”) and symbolic gestures (like demanding the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem) is more effective than any real achievement.

While the Israeli left tries to sway people's minds with countless words and claims, Regev shows them. Regev is not just for Jerusalem - she is Jerusalem. She doesn’t say what the right wants to hear, she shows them what a right-wing world can look like.

She is the “state and its symbols,” and she represents the country through the most basic of symbolisms, and wherever anti-Israeli films are screened, Regev will be there to screen her dress: Where there are no Palestinians, no terror attacks, only Jerusalem, unified for eternity in an image which has already become a potent icon.

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