A strange thing happens when the film Wonder Woman is screened in Israeli movie theaters: the audience applauds when Wonder Woman wins a battle.
According to theater ushers, this phenomenon occurs in the majority of the screenings, yet virtually never in other action-hero films. The clapping is apparently reserved not just for the character of Wonder Woman, but for the Israeli actress that portrays her – Gal Gadot.
Rarely has the nationality of the lead actress of a Hollywood movie generated such an intense reaction around the world. Debates on social media in Europe and the Muslim world have centered on whether to boycott the film due to the casting of Gadot.
Organized opposition emerged with its leaders broadly labeling the movie “The Israeli soldier film.” Lebanon banned Wonder Woman
just hours before its scheduled premiere, using that description and invoking a law that bans Israeli products. This was followed by bans in Tunisia, Algeria, Qatar and elsewhere.
All of a sudden, this fictional film from Hollywood became a real-life referendum on Israel.
The Israelis responded by over-embracing the film and a battle-line was drawn: clapping for Wonder Woman
in Israel vs boycotting Wonder Woman
in BDS circles in Europe and parts of the Muslim world.
Indeed, watching the film, one cannot ignore how “Israeli” Wonder Woman is. Gal Gadot speaks with an Israeli accent. Moreover, Wonder Woman behaves in a very Israeli manner: displaying an enormous amount of chutzpah, defying conventional wisdom, doing what she feels is right, standing up for injustice, being ambitious and charismatic, and not letting anything get in her way.
There is another key element of the action film one cannot ignore. The portrayal of the villain is not drawn from the traditional cadre of Hollywood “bad guy” types: not an Arab terrorist, a Russian spy, not a Mexican drug-dealer, not even a Nazi. Instead, the movie portrays the villain as a mainstream European.
Nor can one ignore the manner in which the film’s villain spreads his evil – not through direct killing and destruction, but, as he explains, through subtly instilling ideas and inspiration in people to foment violence.
The European villain, who comes across at first as a polite, courteous, peace-seeking European, lectures Wonder Woman about proper behavior and promotion of peace. This is while he himself continues to spread concepts that promote divisions, intolerance and war.
An Israeli Wonder Woman vs European incitement.
That is in fiction.
And in real life? As audiences in Jerusalem and in London were watching the film, horrible terrorist attacks were taking place in those cities. The two attacks had startling similarities: both were perpetrated by trios of Muslim terrorists claiming ties to ISIS, both used knives and other weapons to carry out their attacks (in Jerusalem, guns; in London, a truck), both were neutralized by security forces who killed all three perpetrators (in Israel’s case with minimal fire, in London case with a barrage of 46 bullets).
As movie viewers came out of the theaters and heard the horrible news, they were exposed to two different narratives in Europe and in Israel.
In Israel, they learned about the tragic murder of 23-year-old Sgt.-Maj. Hadas Malka, who just 10 minutes prior to her deadly stabbing, sent to her friends a selfie and a message: “Shabbat Shalom to my loving friends.”
But in Europe, the Jerusalem terrorist attack, as other attacks against Israelis, was used as an opportunity to ignite conflict. This was most notably illustrated by the misleading BBC headline: “Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem.” Similar reactions in the media and amongst some European politicians occur regularly in the aftermath of terrorist attacks against Israelis. For example, Swedish foreign minister and former EU commissioner Margot Wallström labeled Israeli shooting of terrorists perpetrating such attacks as “executions.”
This diabolic combination of Israel-bashing (questioning Israel’s right to self-defense) and innate Islamophobia (implying that terrorists represent Palestinians or Islam) generates a well-oiled incitement machine. European citizens begin to believe that while it is justified to shoot 46 bullets at a terrorist in Europe, it is not justified to shoot even a few bullets at terrorists in Israel. When such spurious narratives are repeated enough over the years, Europeans eventually come to believe claims that Israelis shoot Palestinians routinely.
For example, as UNESCO asserted, there is “continuous storming of al-Aksa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif by the Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces.” That provocation in turn is spread in the Arab world, providing fuel for locally generated incitement. With the help of multinational organizations and European-funded NGOs, the information is disseminated, preached and entrenched. A European-supported narrative emerges that subtly instills Palestinians with ideas that promote violence.
Ironically, in many instances, news stories or statements get partially or fully retracted a while later, as with the BBC story about the Jerusalem stabbing. Similar retractions were made in 2002 by European newspapers who reported that Israel had committed a massacre in Jenin, and in 2009, when coverage of the UN’s Goldstone report rushed to condemn Israel for “possible crimes against humanity.” By the time retractions and clarifications are issued, the damage has already been done and the wheels of violence have gained momentum.
There are additional parallels between the fictional film and real world. The denunciation of Gal Gadot was due not only to her nationality, but to her service in the IDF and to her support in 2014 for Israel’s defensive operation against Hamas, which had pounded the Israeli civilian population with a prolonged barrage of thousands of rockets, mortars and missiles.
As Hadas Malka did, Gadot took a photo on a Friday evening – of her and her daughter lighting Shabbat candles – and sent a message of love via social media:
“I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens – especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children... We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf”
That post has been the subject of intense criticism and condemnation, but such misguided condemnations are decades behind their time. No longer subject to the mercy of host nations and forced to endure pogroms, deportations, and worse, today’s proud Jew, sovereign in his land and in control of his own destiny is unapologetic about his right to life. Today’s Jew fights back against evils such as incoming missiles and street stabbings.
Global Judaism is going through a process of cultural Israelization and de-Yiddishization. In a sense, there is a shift of the Jewish icon from Barbra Streisand to Gal Gadot, from Yentl to Wonder Woman. Like Gadot and Malka, Israeli women are growing up as soldiers, pilots, technology entrepreneurs, innovators, corporate CEOs and empowered leaders.
A century earlier, in 1918 when the film is set, the Great War seemed endless. The film shows a prolonged battle between Wonder Woman and the villain who was inciting humans to engage in war. As the battle drags out and seems to draw into an impasse, Wonder Woman deploys a surprise secret weapon – love.
Rather than exerting force against the villain (or “mud wrestling” with him about this or that hypocritical resolution or condemnation), Wonder Woman sidesteps his destructive incitement by going directly to the humans, recognizing their natural good.
In real life, can one imagine what could happen if destructive incitement were sidestepped and the natural good of Palestinians and Israelis were unleashed? Can one imagine an Israeli-Palestinian relationship built on creativity and cooperation, cleansed of the rhetoric of divisiveness?
Then a path could be paved for millions of Israeli and Palestinian wonder women and wonder men to nurture the natural affinity that exists between the two peoples to foster love.