Nearly 50 years since Israel occupied East Jerusalem after its 1948 seizure of West Jerusalem, Israel’s minister of culture, Miri Regev, walked the red carpet at the Cannes film festival wearing a dress emblazoned with a panoramic image of Jerusalem’s famous skyline, including the Islamic Dome of the Rock. In so doing, Regev showcased for the whole world that Israel has long appropriated the cultural heritage of the people it occupies and used it as a weapon to impose its narrative and erase the Palestinians. Regev’s dress symbolized Israel’s determination to stamp an exclusionary Jewish nationalism over the city of Jerusalem, prevent the Palestinians from establishing a capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and efface the Arab, Christian and Muslim heritage of Jerusalem.
One would think that Regev’s former job as chief military censor wouldn’t qualify her to lead a national institution dedicated to promoting the arts, but Israel has long put culture in the service of its settler-colonial project in Palestine. From the get-go, Zionism scripted some of the most mendacious cultural myths of the 20th century, such as “a land without a people for a people without a land” and “making the desert the bloom.” From this standpoint, Regev, part of the vanguard of a new generation of Israeli far-right politicians, was the appropriate pick to lead the Ministry of Culture and Sport. In her public role, Regev has championed an unabashedly Jewish nationalist popular culture. Her Cannes garb is only the latest example.
In her two years as minister, Regev has used the position to deny state funds to an Arab theater in Israel that produced a play about Palestinian prisoners, and she has sought to impose a monetary boycott of cultural institutions that avoid staging events in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. At the same time, she has offered subsidies to those organizations that do perform in settlements. Regev’s mantra is simple: artists should be loyal to the state, according to an amendment she proposed in 2016, otherwise they risk losing government funding for their program. In her view, any cultural product that is seen as promoting “delegitimization of the state” should be penalized.
If that sounds like cultural fascism, then Regev, as she told Israeli TV, is “happy to be a fascist.” Fiercely opposed to a Palestinian state, Regev parrots the longstanding racist cultural trope that Israel is “a villa in the jungle.”
Regev’s Cannes attire did not go unnoticed; it was roundly mocked on social media, where many offered their ideas of a dress more fitting an Israeli right-winger:
— John Reed (@JohninJerusalem) May 18, 2017
— Shaïma Al Taïr (@Shahreset) May 19, 2017
— Rukiye Miletli (@RukiyeMiletli) May 18, 2017
Cartoonist Carlos Latuff fixes the Minister of Terror & Occupation, Extremist MK Miri Regev dress.
This has to be one of best cartoons ever! pic.twitter.com/to8RcAbn5A
— Abbs Winston (@AbbsWinston) May 19, 2017
— Marah Khalife (@MarahKha) May 18, 2017
Others called the dress a form of artwashing in reference to Israeli attempts, including those spearheaded by Regev’s ministry, to distract attention away from the 50 years of occupation by promoting 50 years of Israeli culture, such as movies and musicians, to Western audiences.
— Kyle Goen (@kyledidthis) May 18, 2017
And it took little time for many to discover that the dress was another example of Israeli appropriation of something Palestinian.
Israeli Minister Miri Regev "tasteless, aggressive, and colonialist" dress is also a stolen Palestinian design. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/AHUWeIkO84
— Palestine Info Centr (@palinfoen) May 21, 2017
Like many other similar efforts by the Israeli government to beautify the occupation and right-wing Jewish nationalism, this one flopped and ended up highlighting the very oppression it sought to overshadow. There is simply no way to dress up apartheid, settler-colonialism and half a century of brutal military rule over millions of Palestinians.