Beyond Flesh and Blood

Citation:

Morag, Raya. 2010. “Beyond Flesh and Blood”. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16 (4) : 654-656.

Abstract:

The cover photo for Raz Yosef's Beyond Flesh: Queer Masculinities and Nationalism in Israeli Cinema shows a meticulously directed event of mourning performed by two models dressed as Israeli soldiers in a staged battle scene. One, who seems to be a medic of Mizrahi origin, holds the head of the other, dead, soldier, supposedly Ashkenazi, in a pietà-like pose while using a brush and palette to paint the scar on his half-naked body. The death scene depicts the major contradictions and deep ambivalences embedded in the Israeli cinematic militaristic-national ethos of maleness, traced by Yosef in this pioneering study. Yosef investigates the development of the culture of masculinity, sexuality, and nationality in Israeli cinema from the 1930s to the 1990s. He does so not through a chronological historical depiction but by exploring Israeli cinema's role in the creation of national identity and the complex ways the dialectics of heteronormativity versus queerness embodied in conflicts over race and ethnicity shape this identity. Yosef analyzes the Zionist dream of a new masculinity in Zionist films. Focusing on the Zionist body master narrative, he follows scholars such as Sander Gilman, Daniel Boyarin, and David Biale, who describe hundreds of years of European tradition "that associated the male Jew with disease, madness, degeneration, sexual perversity, and femininity" (17). The Zionist films prove the ambivalence that structures Zionist male body politics: Yosef suggests, "On the one hand, the Nazi is the racist emasculator and," referring to Boyarin's famous claim, "on the other hand, the Aryan male is the model for the Zionist hypermasculinity" (36). The Sabra (native-born Israeli) masculinity is therefore a counterimage not only to the old Jewish "feminine" physiognomy and mentality but, in what might be termed a complementary inversion, the fascist-Aryan body image. One striking characteristic of this Zionist fantasy is its "whiteness." Yosef follows Edward Said and Ella Shohat, among others, in inquiring of Zionism's Eurocentrism in Israeli cinema: "Zionist films linked the new Zionist manhood and body hygiene as a condition for 'racial' improvement and nation-building" (47). Accordingly, he claims, Zionist society reinforced and legitimized its nationalism through this whitened racism, based on the marginalization of both the external enemy, the Arab-Palestinian male, and the internal enemy, the Arab-Mizrahi Jew. Two of Yosef's major contributions are his exploration of the construction of the Mizrahi body and sexuality in mainstream Israeli cinema and his examination of the practices of resistance of Mizrahi filmmakers to Zionist-Ashkenazi manhood discourses. Through an attentive reading, he claims that while 1980s and 1990s films address questions of homophobia and gay subjectivity, they are marked by "disavowal of ethnicity in Ashkenazi gay sexual politics and the incorporation of Mizrahi men into stereotyping and sexual objectification" (143). Beyond Flesh analyzes the quintessential Israeliness embedded in the figure of the soldier in the military films of this period, which mark a crisis in Israeli male subjectivity that, according to Yosef, took place after the 1973 war and was aggravated by the war in Lebanon and the Intifada. This crisis is revealed in the films' representation of the disavowal of the soldier's submission to the Law of the Zionist Father, the soldier's seeking of pain and passivity as a way to act out queer identification with other soldiers, and the cinematic focus on the mutilation of the soldier. Discussing interracial sex, Yosef points out that as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became more violent, more films transgressed the taboo of interracial sex. Some of the films use these representations to critique the heteronormative national ideology and the identity politics of the Israeli gay community. The author emphasizes the colonial scene of conquest as saturated with fears of impotence, emasculation, and death, as well as sexual fantasies. Following Leo Bersani, the body becomes a battlefield in which anal sex is regarded as a form of warfare. Though Yosef neither raises the question of defining queerness nor suggests a final overall taxonomy, his book refers, as I see it, to three major performances of queerness that construct the evolution of national/sexual identity in Israeli cinema. First is the twofold queerness of the diasporic Jew: the queerness...

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