Almodovar Said Something About Abu Akleh. So What?

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
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Shireen Abu Akleh.
Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.Credit: AFP
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

The article about a letter signed by 126 artists, blaming Israel for the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was published – as necessary – on page 3 of Haaretz’s Gallery section (in Hebrew) last Sunday.

The placement of the piece reflects the attitude toward art in general and international art in particular. So filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, one of the signatories, has spoken. Let him concentrate on cinema and leave us alone. The attitude toward the declaration by Almodovar and the other artists can be summed up as follows: We piss on the world in general and on its artists in particular.

Artists, like everyone else, have opinions. So does Pedro Almodovar. His films deal with people and their relationships. The death of a female journalist is included in his areas of interest and those of the millions who have watched his films. His opinion is respected and influential. But the death of the journalist affects us exactly like the deaths of others in the West Bank – in other words, not at all.

Artists can exploit the platforms at their disposal in order to reach large audiences. Not here. Small country, small audience. Have you lost some of it? Then you’ve lost part of your livelihood. To make your voice heard around here you need courage. Non-establishment art is courageous art, courageous art is better art. You want courage? You won’t find it here. Ask an artist here for a political opinion and they’ll mouth the words: What do I know?

Influencers have replaced artists, and even they are better off keeping quiet. Imagine Israeli singer and actress Noa Kirel (not to mention model and social media personality Neta Alchimister) demanding an investigation. The power of the influencers is greater than that of the artists. Numbers don’t lie. A book by leading author Meir Shalev will sell some 10,000 copies but Alchimister has 1.7 million followers – and 1.7 million followers is equivalent to 30 representatives in the Knesset. Alchimister for prime minister! How many Knesset seats is Meir Shalev worth?

I assume that Alchimister’s followers on social media have a general idea about who Shalev is, and maybe, barely, about Almodovar (when the late writer Amos Oz is mentioned, they’ll ask if he’s the one who fought with his daughter, or something like that). We can understand the people. The people have spoken, and rightly so. I believe, and can even explain, why a photo of Alchimister is far more heartwarming than a picture of Shalev in a bathing suit, in the very same swimming pool.

Artists are in danger of losing their livelihoods, what are journalists in danger of? A journalist died? Her death wasn’t investigated? We didn’t see journalists demonstrating (okay, she’s only a Palestinian woman). You won’t find professional solidarity among us, and CNN and its investigation can go to hell.

Even a letter by 57 U.S. congressmen who called to investigate Abu Akleh’s death was received with our inimitable insensitivity. In other words, the Israeli ambassador to the United States “expressed disappointment” and spoke about “the Palestinian wave of terror.” And he was being restrained. He could easily have mentioned the Iranian nukes (not to mention the Holocaust and the six million).

The Israel Defense Forces was not impressed, of course. It doesn’t care about us or about the world and its demands. Why investigate? What could they possibly find? And what do we care about the world that supplies us with wheat and meat and oil? And Almodovar? No lousy Spaniard, and a gay one too, will tell us what to investigate.

Let me wax nostalgic for the days when killing a journalist would have led to a highly articulate, penetrating, tortured and proper reaction by writers David Grossman or Oz on the first page of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. Those were days when there were still “intellectuals” who descended from the “ivory tower.” But where are the ivory towers today, and where are the intellectuals?

As an intellectual Alchimister doesn’t affect my life. Maybe because I’m a baby boomer. I am less oppressed by her silence than by her Israeliness. Every reaction of the IDF’s Spokesman’s Office to the death of the journalist on May 11 brings me back to this ugly Israeliness, from which I’m so eager to flee.

We’ve already forgotten Shireen Abu Akleh. We have turned our attention to the assassination of a senior Iranian official in Tehran. There’s no better way to make us forget the reaction of the world in general and of Almodovar in particular, than to consider the murder of a senior Iranian, and on a motorcycle yet! The way they took out criminals next to the stock exchange in Ramat Gan.

Okay, we assassinated them. But I’d be happy if someone would refresh my memory and explain to me what’s wrong with a balance of terror between two countries that have nuclear bombs, and for whom religious fanaticism is such an important component of their policy.

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