[The former Israeli soldier] talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards the base he’d patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.
The pills in their bloodstream meant they felt no pain. Only a headshot would take them down.
It sounds like a setpiece from a moronic action movie but it’s not to be found in either screen fiction or the ‘experimental’ film Forty Shades of Grey, Nicky Larkin‘s ostensible study of Israel-Palestine. Larkin related this nonsensical anecdote in the first of his columns in Ireland’s most popular Sunday paper, the Sunday Independent, March 11, 2012. Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) did what he could to restore sense, but by the time of his third and most unstable piece, Larkin had bizarrely contrived of the IPSC, and Deane in particular, his nemeses. Drawing on a more familiar toolbox of imagery, Larkin follows the ridiculous with stock exploitation: ‘I began to experience the sense of isolation Israelis feel. An isolation that began in the ghettos of Europe and ended in Auschwitz.’ If the ecstasy-filled-terror-teens incident ever occurred, it too was certainly isolated, and unheard of till Larkin began his remarkably hostile publicity campaign for his tough sell documentary.
It must be hard working for Israel’s Foreign Ministry nowadays. The boss is more like a Boss of Bosses, a borderline fascist ex-bouncer plagued by corruption allegations, and the job of the diplomatic corps seems to consist of two things: dealing with the blowback of PR crises arising from the latest military outrage – invariably by blaming the victims – and providing diplomatic cover for the state’s ever less palatable commitment to ethnic (‘white‘) ascendancy. Many countries have issues with race relations, discriminative or repressive policies, but in First World terms the Israelis are well on their own in their ruthless demographic control coupled with the state’s insatiable hunger for its immediate neighbors’ land and resources. Such odious practices have become standard, and so savagely pronounced in the Palestinian Occupied Territories that varying degrees of (scarcely enforced) international condemnation are near constant.
Tough positions to defend, yet there are places where public support for Israel’s policies remains high, most obviously North America. The U.S. and Canada have relatively significant Jewish populations traditionally reflexive in their support for Israel, though that is slowly but certainly evolving. Israel’s notorious Washington lobby, namely AIPAC – influential on a par with Big Oil, Big Pharma, or the National Rifle Association – is deeply entrenched in Middle East policy-making, backed by a fervent Christian Zionist community deeply committed to Israel as their Biblically-sanctioned theme park of the incoming apocalypse. Some think they could be vaguely right, of course, but for more frightening, less supernatural reasons.
Such deep, unqualified popular support for Israel isn’t quite the norm in most other parts of the world, nor is the sheer volume of Zionist activism seen in America (though a serious lobby emerged in the UK during the Blair years.) And Ireland is a good example of a country whose government maintains diplomatic relations with Israel but whose people are broadly cognizant of Israel’s crimes, though with precious little help from dominant media. While European citizenry are markedly more critical of Israel’s policies than Americans, the Irish have particularly good historical grounds for questioning a country practicing ethnic disparity as a matter of course. Centuries of the British boot on their throat, resulting in the near-complete erosion of Ireland’s Gaelic culture, and a constant reminder of that imperial legacy remaining to this day in the north of the island, can do that. There are some strong sympathies in Ireland, north and south, for Palestine, feelings only stirred by actions such as the recent spate of hunger strikes undertaken by numerous Palestinians held in protest of Israel’s notorious indefinite detention laws. After all, Bobby Sands and nine others died doing essentially the same thing under Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.
So, the Zionist state has its work cut out in Ireland. But it does have allies willing to hasbarize, from various corners, including artist/documentarian Larkin. Armed with a grant from the Arts Council, Larkin went to Israel, he says, to create a ‘pro-Palestinian’ film, his interest, he says, spurred by Israel’s monstrous Operation Cast Lead. He claims he ‘was so angered’ that he ‘posed in the striped scarf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for an art show catalogue.’ A touching story, similar to that of many who’d watched what happened in Gaza, though dismissively identifying the Arab cultural symbol, the keffiyeh, as a ‘PLO scarf’ indicates the level, nay shade, of Larkin’s understanding of Israel-Palestine.
More often than not, Larkin gets his facts a little crossed up. In one of his op-eds he recounts as fact how
Dublin city council allowed a day-long enactment of mock executions of “Israelis” by “Palestinians” on our main shopping thoroughfare, organized by the [IPSC].
The IPSC must have noticed the mix-up mid-performance, giving Larkin two ways of portraying their agitprop abuses. Elsewhere Larkin deplores how the Irish
[R]ecently tolerated the day-long enactment of mock executions of “Palestinians” by “Israelis” on O’Connell Street in Dublin.
I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, she sat forward angrily in her chair as she refused to condemn the actions of the suicide bombers. She was all aggression.
Brace yourself for the offending clip (which appears only partially in the film.)
Shocking stuff, that aggressive leaning. No wonder he threw his ‘PLO scarf’ in the bin and implores readers to do likewise. Though it’s curious it took Larkin, having witnessed such even-handed horrors in Ireland, a trip to Israel to find there’s two sides to this well-established tale. And if only his visual work showed such flair, let alone such gall, as his alternating recollections. One almost wishes his documentary would too but, alas, FSoG fails to soar to such heights as propaganda, and merely limps insufferably along, making 83 minutes seem like three hours. Maybe the intention is shrewder than Larkin seems able: to make Israel-Palestine seem like an excruciatingly dull non-issue.
Larkin complains effusively about the Irish being ‘anti-Israel’ yet writes this in the Sunday edition of a leading-circulation rightist paper that’s generally ‘pro’-Israel (that is, pro-Israel’s lawlessness) and, since his first of three pieces so far, has featured two others opining in his defense, though one managed to get his name wrong. Larkin’s more recently been doing the rounds where he and his newfound passion will feel even more at home, being interviewed by Michael Coren on the Sun News Network, a kind of Canadian Fox News (FSoG‘s been screening in Canada, and Coren was on a roll that day).
Like a parody of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, something happened to Larkin during his fact-finding pilgrimage to the Holy Land – or since, perhaps in post-production when his film’s poverty of insight became apparent. Larkin swears up and down that FSoG is his attempt at providing a fair and unbiased reading of the situation in Israel-Palestine, and does this in his articles decrying up and down the Palestinian cause and those who speak up about it. FSoG is, he thinks, both ‘experimental’ – another basis, according to the Arts Council, on which it was funded – and politically heavyweight, but its experiments are one (echoing dialogue samples – basically this for protracted sections) and its politics far too cursory for activists of any stripe, or anyone else either. If FSoG isn’t intended for general audiences, and it probably won’t be picked up for wide distribution, then Larkin’s series of scurrilous, self-aggrandizing plugs are all the more suspect.
FSoG‘s supposed artiness neither compliments nor diverts attention from what is nothing more than a partial summary of Israel-Palestine’s barest bones, with other stuff thrown in for good measure. It’s poorly – an unfocused, desperately uneven hodgepodge – and lazily – inexcusable audio glitches, textural flickers suggesting a camera on auto-settings, uniformly prosaic interviews – executed. The shallow range of talking heads, mostly Israeli vox pops in bars and cafés, all go unidentified. The themes predictably vary from the Israeli and back to the Palestinian point of view, but then, abruptly and without foreshadow, the issue of Israel’s imperiled black immigrants is dropped in. This final segment explores – with hitherto unseen, albeit momentary, incisiveness – the extent of Israeli racism against African refugees as much as the cruelty of their Bedouin traffickers/captors.
In Larkin’s viral promotion of FSoG he sees fit to entitle an extract on this theme ‘Bedouin Rape Camps‘ – a term exclusive to Larkin’s promotion of FSoG and indicative of the tabloid mentality lurking beneath his arty facade. The issue of Sudanese refugees and their well-being is salient and topical, but its sudden prominence in the final twitches of FSoG is confusing. If FSoG is, as professed with typical caricature, about Israel-Palestine, then the matter of African migrants, Sinai Bedouins, and even Israeli anti-African racism is, while not irrelevant, somewhat secondary. Yet Larkin breezily skims his way through these disparate topics, throwing darts at the wall of his Israel-Palestine film that’s actually his Mostly-Israel film. Of the 70ish interview segments, over 40 are Israeli, less than 25 Palestinian, and the remainder African or otherwise concerned.
On Israel-Palestine he taps into the mentality of the ‘normal’ Israeli, but the danger is that viewers might perceive these anonymous (until a list of names scrolls by in the credits) Israelis as authoritative, and their propagandized delusions as well-informed commentary. What disturbs, as ever, about the Israeli interviewees is how cool they seem and surely are, one-to-one, yet how profoundly certain they are of a besieged, basically innocent Israel, with Jews, their Jewish-ness, hated irrationally by their benighted Muslim neighbors. Larkin makes no interjection, documenting their internalized hysteria uninterrupted, and it’s from these decontextualized interviewees that a propagandistic aspect could be discerned. There are few other voices in contrast, but one of the few deeper insights still isn’t a groundbreaking one: Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour on the ‘awkward’ (and, in fairness, still barely acknowledgeable in the mainstream) truth of the relationship between U.S. politics and Israel via AIPAC and co.
Larkin’s mainstream media-disseminated ‘journey’ from hater to apologist – if it’s one that he actually took, rather than simply concocted to promote a film that might otherwise struggle to find an audience – is thus doubly curious. Because it was bankrolled at the outset on the premise of being an
Experimental film examining the ‘shades of grey’ in ordinary life in Israel and Palestine.
Larkin ‘used to hate Israel’ till he went there? Hard to see, but that’s the project the Arts Council funded. In all likelihood Larkin didn’t have any big awakening bar realizing (a) that he prefers Israelis to Palestinians, and (b) that he could get his film, and himself, undue publicity by very publicly ‘switching sides’. That he ever cared about Palestinians (or ‘hating Israel’) is unlikely. It’s clear his allegiance isn’t to either ‘side’ or any principles, rather just to one young man. Larkin seems to be a case of opportunist Zionism, something for which the striking discrepancy between his boring but arguably ambivalent film, and his angry, hysterically anti-Palestinian writings provide ample supporting evidence.
FSoG will disappoint Zionists (in fact it already has, but they love Larkin’s written work), humanitarians, and everyone else in its paddle through the ‘conflict’ about which Larkin and FSoG have – Larkin asserted with characteristically whopping self-importance in his surly intro to the Dublin premiere (there was no Q&A) – reignited the ‘debate’ in Ireland. Of course, for those involved or who’ve checked, the debate concluded 44 years ago, but if hasbara is about one thing it’s about sustaining doubts with dusty debates. And if there’s any debate about FSoG‘s political content it’s probably within such a context, but this clumsy, weak mess fails dismally to touch on any but the most belabored themes of what was once a ‘conflict’ but is now high among the most crazy and glaringly criminal social arrangements in the world. More interesting than his slipshod work is the incredible, for an unknown, PR that Larkin’s enjoyed thanks to Independent News & Media. INM is the owner of a number of Irish publications which have sustained a frequency of sycophantic, anti-Palestinian rants published in recent months, and in whose Sunday Independent it looked, for a while, like Larkin’s poison pen was becoming a regular fixture.
Efforts to demonize the movement against Israel’s erasure of Palestine are peaking in Ireland, and may be faltering, but there’s been plenty of damage done already. Irish traditional act Dervish declined to play Israel following an appeal from the IPSC to respect the cultural boycott in place as long as Israel breaches international law. Boycotting culture is understandably subject to debate, but Palestinians’ human rights, many agree, are more important than the right of Israelis to enjoy (or export) cultural events. A May 4 official press release from Ireland’s Minister for Justice Alan Shatter scandalously linked the IPSC to Al-Qaeda, though, perhaps intentionally, refers throughout to the IPSG, for Group. But no national scandal ensued. Indeed, several media outlets reported it with merely the inevitable token ‘balance’, quoting the IPSC but emphasizing Shatter’s other harmful allegations. Neither the Independent or the Irish Times included the astonishing smear in their nonetheless uncritical reports, but the Sunday Times, to its credit, not only reported it but focused on the IPSC’s measured response.
In Shatter we see, as in myriad other cases, that a person can be as reasonable and liberal as people or politicians go, right up until the point of Israel, wherein bonkers Zionism kicks in, outrageous libel comes out, and we see humanitarians whose actions are politically sensitive – but gathering appreciable momentum – subjected to the most outlandish vilification. In Larkin we see something less interesting but similarly dangerous: human rights distorted and debased into a PR tool of the talentless but amoral, and a yellow editorial delighted to accommodate.
– Craig Higgins & Van Poynton
Craig Higgins is a graduate student and native of New Orleans.
Van Poynton is a screenwriter and director based in Dublin.