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‘Undressing Israel’

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Israel’s diversity: director Michael Lucas (lowest tip of the star) interviewed a variety of people, from an Israeli gay filmmaker and community leaders to gay parents and an Israeli Arab.

The naked truth about the Holy Land.
by David-Elijah Nahmod

When people think of Israel, they often conjure up images of suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and Orthodox Jews. During the opening moments of Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land, the first non-pornographic feature from gay porn-king Michael Lucas, people in New York City’s Times Square are asked if they think homosexuality is legal in Israel. Many say they have no idea, while some assume it’s not.

For nearly an hour, Lucas reveals the other side of life in the Jewish State. He visits the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), where Parliament member Nitzan Horowitz issues a Gay Pride proclamation. In Tel Aviv, the country’s gay mecca, gay dad Yossi Berg, founder of Rainbow Families, walks with his young son and explains the importance of having children in Jewish culture.

Lucas takes us to an Israeli gay wedding. He interviews an openly gay personal trainer, who shares his experience of coming out in the Israeli army, where homosexuality has been accepted since 1993.

Throughout the film, Lucas makes it plainly obvious that much of Israel is a safe place to be openly gay.

“Israel is more progressive than the United States,” he observes.

Undressing Israel is not the first time Lucas’s camera has ventured inside the State of Israel. In 2009, he raised many eyebrows when he produced Men of Israel, the first in a series of gay adult features to be shot inside the country with an all-Sabra (Israeli-born) cast.

Lucas, who works in New York City and Tel Aviv, has become one of Israel’s most vocal champions in the gay community. Unafraid of controversy, he’s been equally vocal in his condemnation of the virulently antigay regimes that exist in the Muslim world. His columns for publications like The Advocate, in which he harshly condemns the anti-Israel activism of queer-identified organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, often draw fire, but he always stands his ground.

While preparing Undressing Israel for film festival screenings around the U.S. and the world, Lucas sat down with OutSmart for an interview.

 

Michael Lucas, the director of Undressing Israel.

David-Elijah Nahmod: Can you explain your personal connection to Israel, and why the country means so much to you?
Michael Lucas: I am ethnically Jewish. I was born to a Jewish family in the Soviet Union and many of my relatives died in the Holocaust. Growing up, I experienced not only homophobia but also anti-Semitism. So I understood from a very early age the importance of the State of Israel.

What kind of responses have you gotten for the Men of Israel series?
It was my biggest commercial success to date. I got amazing responses, not only from the adult world but also from the mainstream media such as the Los Angeles Times. As for inside Israel, people were incredibly open-minded and helpful. Whenever I ran into problems, people were there to help. They were very excited to see this big production being filmed in Israel. I have a very good relationship with the gay community in Israel. By now, I think I have been interviewed by every Israeli newspaper.

Have you gotten harsh responses from the Orthodox community?
I have never been in contact with the Orthodox community.

What was your inspiration for embarking on the Undressing Israel project?
I was inspired by the country and its openness, friendliness, and tolerance towards minorities. But mainly [I undertook the project] because not a lot of people see that side of Israel. The media are only interested in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I thought that this movie would be incredibly important for Israel.

How did you go about finding your interview subjects?
It was all because of the help of my co-director Yariv Mozer, of Mozer Films. He helped a great deal with casting. Plus, as soon as I announced the project, people started coming to me.

We interviewed a variety of people, from an Israeli gay filmmaker and community leaders to gay parents and an Israeli Arab. Plus, I was invited to the Knesset and interviewed openly gay Parliament member Nitzan Horowitz.

Were there any incidents in which a potential interview subject hesitated or backed away because of your work in the adult film industry?
I never had a problem with anyone who would not be in my film because I own a gay adult studio. Israelis know me as a friend of the country.

Do you have any concerns that your adult film notoriety might affect people’s perceptions of Undressing Israel, or that they might not take the film seriously?
No. Absolutely not. I believe it’s the opposite. I’m a well-known name in the gay community, so that can only help spread the word.

What is your message to queer activist organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, which often protests the policies of the Israeli government while ignoring the country’s favorable record on gay rights?
There is no point in having a conversation with that self-hating group whose members have already made up their minds and only care about the destruction
of Israel.

What do you hope to achieve with Undressing Israel?
I hope to show Israel as it is—a country that is not only a champion of gay rights in the Middle East, but also way ahead of many Western countries. And, of course, I want to see more tourists go to Israel.

For more information on Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land, visit undressingisrael-themovie.com.

David-Elijah Nahmod lives in San Francisco. His eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications, monster magazines, and the Times of Israel.

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