The decision last week by the New York LGBT center to lift a ban on all Israel-related events, clearing the way for Sarah Schulman to present her book that is highly critical of the Jewish state, ends a two-year period in which the center deferred to the wishes of outspoken porn mogul Michael Lucas. Lucas has now stated that he wants others to boycott the center, but in the meantime he's been busy promoting the Israeli brand.
Earlier this month Lucas, who is known for anti-Muslim views, premiered Israel Undressed: Gay Men in the Promised Land, a documentary about Israel as the Middle East's only tolerant, gay-friendly society.
"Is homosexuality legal in Israel?" asks the trailer for Israel Undressed. The film features a member of Knesset, an "Arab-Israeli journalist," a set of parents, a drag queen and a soldier (all gay men who present as upper-middle class). Each pundit dispels a misconception about Israel, mostly rebuffing the notion that the country is dangerous at all times—everywhere, for everyone. "People think that Israel is at constant war—that I go out of my house with a helmet."
Israel Undressed's trailer also winks at Lucas's known detestation of religious Jews. "People think… that it's not ok to be gay here because of all of the religious," says the drag queen as she fixes the hem of her dress.
The porn mogul called the religious "parasites" and worse in a 2007 op-ed for the New York Gay Blade:
There can be no doubt that these religious goons are the anal warts on the body of Israeli society. Their main activities are praying and breeding. For those huge accomplishments, they are excused from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and are given welfare by the government, so that they never have to rest from praying and breeding to work like everyone else.
They are a small percentage of the society, but if somebody doesn’t stop the vermin from breeding full-time, there’s no telling what could happen in the future.
Men of Israel. (Photo: Lucas Entertainment)
Born in Moscow in 1972, Lucas studied law and then began working as a model and prostitute. Today he is is renowned as a "porn king," because he produces and often stars in big-budgeted adult films made by his company Lucas Entertainment. His magnum opus, Michael Lucas's La Dolce Vita, cost $250,000, making it the highest-priced adult film in history, according to Lucas.
As a filmmaker Lucas branded himself a pro-Israel ambassador during the war with Lebanon when he organized a USO style live-sex show in Tel Aviv with free admission for soldiers. Then in 2009 he made Men of Israel, an adult film with scenes shot in Nakba ruins, or homes once belonging to Palestinians. In 2011 Lucas went on the offensive by spearheading a campaign to cancel an Israeli Apartheid Week event planned at the New York City LGBT Center. Lucas decried the organizers of the "Party to End Apartheid" as a "hate group," comparing them to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church who is known for picketing funerals of U.S. soldiers with colorful sings that read: God Hates Fags. Leveraging his celebrity Lucas also avowed if the center did not cancel the event he would rally donors to stop contributions. The community center cowered, placing a moratorium on all Israel related events. Without notice the ban was lifted last week.
In less salacious advocacy Lucas is a regular contributor to mainstream LGBTQ publications. His anti-Muslim sentiments are underscored by the blog Queerty in 2010 in which Lucas states point-blank "I hate Muslims":
I hate Muslims, absolutely. It's a horrible, horrible religion. It's a plague. People ignore me the way they ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s a drug addict. Michael Lucas is just a porn star. People take time to call me irrelevant. They write three detailed pages on a blog about my irrelevance. … There are moments in life when silence is your fault and truth is your responsibility. The religion, the institution, the system of Islam — they are as talented and creative and passionate as anyone else. But they’re stuck in a horrible lie, brainwashed from birth to death. And now they have been stuck in time since the 7th century. They have not contributed to civilization in any way, in any field — political thought, science, music, architecture, nothing for century after century. What do they produce? Carpets. That's how they should travel because that’s the only way they travel without killing people.
Lucas gave an earlier tirade against Muslims when speaking at Stanford University in 2008: "I have a problem with people separating terrorists from the world that breeds them, from the world that originates them, which is the world of Islam." Lucas later defended his position in a campus newspaper op-ed:
Speaking of racism in relation to religion, not to a race, is a big disservice to language and to intelligence. I never in my life said or wrote a bad word about Arabs — go read any of my articles. My criticism was always addressed towards the religion and ideology of Islam. So I would like to ask Stanford students not to exploit the word 'racism' at their own convenience.
His outbursts have gained national attention. Both the Forward and the New Republic covered the story. Yet for the moment Lucas has only received praise for his documentary, with one exception from Queerty:
Both Lucas and Mozer [co-producer and director] have been accused of pinkwashing—promoting Israel’s gay-rights record in order to downplay human-rights abuses against Palestinians. Whether or not Undressing Israel will draw similar criticism will have to wait until the film premieres at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in February.
In terms of the film's basic premise, it is certainly true that same-sex unions are legal in Israel, along with rights for non-biological parents, and benefits for same-sex spouses. But the trailer plays like a commercial for Tel Aviv's gay nightlife and Israel in general, rather than a meaningful look into the lives of LGBT people, or the occupation.
Even Israel's own public relations machine paints a more complicated visual of homophobia in the Jewish state. "There's no dearth of cases where soldiers complained about sexual harassment regarding their sexual orientation," wrote the then closeted Cpl. Ido in a coming-out post for the IDF's official blog. "The offenders were punished," continued Ido. But cracking down against bigotry hardly renders homophobia a inconsequential issue, underscored by the fact that the soldier readily described homophobia in the army:
Even today 'gay' is used as a derogative by many people, mostly teens. Commanders are well-briefed about the proper use of language and take care not to use it in an insulting way. Somtimes it helps, sometimes not so much. But at least in the army being inoffensive is an order people have to follow, even the homophobes. [sic]
From viewing the trailer, the film appears inescapably polemical, intended to shift the outside world's stereotypes of Israel, namely in America. The lack of depth into the gay experience and the white elephant of Israel's occupation produce a synthetic tone. In that respect even though Lucas embarked on a genre known to be more true to life, the superficiality of his work renders it not unlike the rest of his work -- pro-Israel pornography.