Appearing on an important, well-publicised platform may make you look great in the public eye. This is a conventional maxim that is rarely ignored by those seeking to mislead public opinion. The dress worn by the Israeli minister of culture on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last week is an example. It provoked a storm of criticism, not least because it was embroidered with images of the Old City of Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel for 50 years. The minister herself served in the occupation army as an officer and spokeswoman. The dress revealed the logic of propaganda that tries to convince the world in any way possible that Jerusalem is Israeli.
However, the extremist minister in question, Miri Regev, has been caught out by the new age in which the public reaction cannot be controlled through a compliant mainstream media and repressed, as Israel does with Palestinian journalists. The means for self-expression and creativity available to the public were limited half a century ago when the Israeli army forced its way into the Old City and its leaders posed for propaganda photos that circulated in the world press, presenting them as great conquerors. Social media and smartphones were still an undreamt-of future, so Israeli propaganda could be disseminated easily, with few obstacles, to mislead the world. Israel spread its narrative and filled people’s heads with romantic perceptions of “the best occupation in history”.
Reality has changed a great deal since then. The world is now seeing, hearing and keeping up with what is going on like never before; we all have the ability to interact with events, and with each other, allowing the public to think critically and respond accordingly. As soon as the far-right minister made her appearance in that dress, she unleashed a wave of creative criticism in responses from around the world. Amazing new versions of the dress appeared, some showing a pale gray concrete Wall, others showing an image of a distraught Palestinian woman and other images of the daily reality of life under Israel’s military occupation.
Social networking sites have been filled by such reactions, demonstrating the high level of global awareness about the issue. Regev must know by now that it is no longer possible to send out crude political messages with a dress at a film festival, nor to embellish oppressive occupation regimes with a little bit of make-up. Trying to beautify Israel’s ugly occupation on the red carpet is definitely a no-no in this day and age.
The message, though, doesn’t seem to have got through to the Israelis, who have a tendency to use women in their propaganda. The occupation army and police force have long used carefully chosen images of women to justify the massacres, bombings, killings, abuse and persecution of Palestinians. Up until the popular uprising – the First Intifada – that broke out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in late 1987, men using brusque language were the military’s public face. Given the brutality of the official response to the intifada, it was then felt that a softer approach, using female officers, should be tried. Miri Regev was one of these women and she found her way into the right-wing extremist Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thus, the former army officer was transformed into the minister of culture, sharing the red carpet at Cannes with filmmakers, in a dress specially designed to beautify the occupation.
What the dress can’t hide is Regev’s lengthy track record of justifying war crimes in her former position as army spokeswoman. What’s more, she does not attempt to hide her extremism and racist statements. Throughout her political career, she has made a series of racist comments about the Palestinians, as well as “non-white” people whom she regards as a “cancer”. She later apologised to cancer patients for this analogy but not to those who were the targets of her derogatory comment. In a TV programme in 2012 she even boasted about her racist views: “I’m proud to be a fascist,” she declared.
The Israeli minister’s appearance at the Cannes Film Festival carried with it a long history as an officer in an occupation army that has committed numerous atrocities and shed blood matching the colour of the red carpet on which she walked. Miri Regev’s track record and the reality of Israel’s brutal occupation have one thing in common; they cannot be concealed or beautified in the new social media age of public consciousness and activism.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.