When many people think of Israel, it is often in terms of modern war or ancient religion. But there is much more to the Jewish state than missiles and prayers.
In Undressing Israel, premiering Feb. 8at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, gay porn auteur Michael Lucas and Israeli director Yariv Mozer examine a side of the Holy Land that is largely overlooked: its thriving gay community.
The film spotlights a diverse range of local men, including a gay member of Israel’s parliament, a trainer who served openly in the army, a young Arab-Israeli journalist, and a pair of fathers raising their children.
Michael Lucas also visits Tel Aviv’s vibrant nightlife scene and even attends a same-sex wedding in this guided tour of a country that has emerged as a pioneer for gay integration and equality.
Why is it important for you to introduce people to gay Israel?
When Israel makes news, it is almost always in the context of terrorism or occupation. Israel is often cast as an oppressor and people who know little about the Middle East come away with the idea that it is an intolerant place that is only supported by those on the political right. Israel is actually the most liberal country in the area by far, and its very impressive record on gay-rights issues is a clear illustration of that. The gay lives that are shown in Undressing Israel do not exist in any of Israel’s Muslim neighbors.
What surprises viewers most in the film?
The variety and openness of Israel’s gay community, and how comfortably it is integrated into the rest of Israeli society.
How do most Israelis view homosexuality?
As tolerantly as Americans do—probably more so, overall.
How does Israel compare with the USA in the battle for gay equality?
Israel is considerably ahead of America in many important ways. For example, Israel’s parliament repealed prohibitions against sodomy in 1988, fifteen years before the American Supreme Court did the same. Discrimination against gays in employment has been prohibited nationwide since 1992. Gay Israelis can adopt their partners’ children, which is still illegal in many states. Gay people may sponsor their partners for immigration, which is not yet legal in America.
Are gay men allowed to serve openly in the military?
Yes, and they have been since 1993. Before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the Israeli military was often cited as an example for America to follow.
Where is Israel in terms of gay marriage?
Israelis are not as interested in achieving the word “marriage” as much as they are in the rights that it accords, particularly when it comes to having children. Although gay marriage does not exist in Israel—because of opposition by the country’s still-powerful religious minority—the state effectively recognizes common-law marriage for same-sex couples, which gives them many financial and legal rights that we do not yet possess in America. (Israel does officially recognize gay marriages performed abroad.)
Is it true that Israel is experiencing a gayby boom?
Absolutely, yes. It’s a very family-oriented culture. Per capita, in fact, Israel has the highest number of children with gay parents in the world. I think that at least half of my gay Israeli friends have children.
What is like to be a transsexual in Israel?
Transsexuals face special challenges everywhere, but Israel is unusually accepting by international standards. One of the biggest celebrities in Israel is Dana International: a beautiful, openly transsexual pop singer who is widely loved by Israelis. In 1998, she was selected to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, a hugely popular annual competition held among many of the active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. She won.
How does Israel’s nightlife scompare to the USA?
It varies from city to city, but Tel Aviv’s club scene is comparable to New York’s. It has clubs, bars, discos, gay beaches and a huge Gay Pride parade.
Is Israel safe?
Yes. In 2002, Israel began construction on the West Bank Barrier, which the government said was essential to prevent would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel and attacking civilians. This concrete-based wall has indeed stopped suicide bombings and other attacks. And Israel proper is not a violent place. The rate of gun-related death there is less than one-fifth of what it is in the United States.
What can the USA learn from Israel?
Where gay rights are concerned, it is best to adopt a national policy rather than defer, as the USA too often does, to “state’s-rights” arguments that effectively create large regions of second-class citizenry.
What can Israel learn from the USA?
The momentum for full marriage equality in America has grown stronger, and more quickly, than even most gay activists had hoped. It would be nice to see more movement in that direction in Israel, even if the common-law system already gives gay couples many of marriage’s practical benefits.
What’s the overall message of Undressing Israel?
I would like for people to take away a greater understanding of how progressive and tolerant Israel really is. People sometimes ask why we should care about Israel. This is why: because Israel shares our core values. And in some areas—like gay rights—it can even help inspire us to live up to those values a little better.
Undressing Israel premieres Friday, Feb. 8 at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. For more information on the film, visit undressingisrael-themovie.com. For more on the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, visit ajff.org or read our rundown of the festival’s LGBT films.