BY REBECCA AGULE
On Monday, March 19, 2007, as snow began to once again blanket the Law School Campus, a group of students were transported to the similarly snowy mountains along the Lebanese-Israeli border, as they watched the acclaimed 2002 Hebrew-language film Yossi and Jagger.
The event was a unique collaboration by the Jewish Law Students Association, HLS Alliance for Israel, HLS Lambda, and Harvard Students for Israel. Professor Alan Dershowitz served as the link between these seemingly unconnected organizations; he was the original faculty advisor for both the JLSA and LAMBDA.
Elliot Davis, a spokesman for the Alliance for Israel, said, “The pro-Israel and gay communities have rarely interacted in the past, despite having some common interests. We hope that Alliance for Israel will maintain its relationship with Lambda, and will work with other student affinity groups in the future.”
The film itself was a further nexus uniting these organizations, depicting the developing love between two male IDF commanders. Shot with a hand-held camera and based upon a well-constructed script, the film takes on the feel of a documentary, despite being a narrative piece.
Yossi, the more highly ranked of the two officers, desires a career in the army, and therefore feels the need to keep their affair clandestine. Jagger, so nicknamed for his “rock star good looks”, will shortly finish his service, and wants to move towards a regular, open relationship with Yossi.
Even as it focuses around these two characters, the film presents numerous further issues endemic to the IDF, including a female soldier who is sleeping with her married commander, the claustrophobia-inducing barracks, handling loss, and a cook who uses his meals as a creative outlet.
Directed by Eytan Fox, Yossi and Jagger presents one view of the the impact of universal conscription upon Israeli society, as well as perhaps showing that the United States is not the only country indulging in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in practice, if not in policy.
During his opening remarks, Dershowitz spoke of the situation impacting homosexuals, both in general society and in the military. He said, “Israel has a long way to go, as does every country in the world.”
Dershowitz introduced the film itself by comparing it to Brokeback Mountain, which also depicted two men attempting to sustain a relationship while surrounded by traditional machismo. “I thought [Yossi and Jagger] was a much better film,” he said. “I thought it portrayed a more genuine love.”
Dershowitz went on to describe Yossi and Jagger as a film about being gay, about the IDF, about Israel. “It is a film about love, a film about joy, a film about openness,” he said. “The movie is a Rorschach. It can be seen for so many things.”
Following the film, Professor Dershowitz opened the floor to the audience, asking for their input and how to continue the various organizations’ joint efforts. He clearly admired both the film and the IDF, mentioning that the latter urges soldiers to watch the former.
Both a defender of Israel, and one of its most shrewd critics, Dershowitz discussed issues challenging the modern IDF, currently coming under attack for both the 2006 war with Lebanon and for soldiers who are facing charges of improper conduct.
Several members of the audience were Israelis who had themselves served in the IDF, some in combat units, some away from the front. They seemed to contrast Dershowitz’s optimism. “I have never heard of an openly gay commander in the combat units,” one commented, saying that his experience in a combat unit contradicted those portrayed in the film. “It isn’t that open.”
Another student remarked upon the difference between combat missions, where soldiers serve in close quarters and live under on-going stress, and other units, such as intelligence, which tend to be more outwardly accepting, as soldiers’ days closer resemble those of a civilian, and they can maintain more of their pre-IDF lives.
One Israeli went so far to assert that Israel is actually a very closeted country, a comment reinforced by another audience member who reminded all in attendance of the country’s small size, and how that lends itself to a sense that “everyone knows everyone.”
Clearly these issues are not unique to the armed forces, of any nation, as Dershowitz said, “I continue to be amazed, in the Harvard Faculty, that there is very little openness. That says a lot about this community.”
The evening was not all seriousness, as Dershowitz recounted his mother’s reaction, following his own divorce, when she saw him speaking out with a gay rights group. “Oh thank goodness,” she is meant to have said, finally understanding how on earth he could have divorced that “nice Orthodox woman.” “We will get you the best doctors,” she supposedly continued. “Not that there is anything wrong with that.”
Following the event, Davis mentioned that the Alliance for Israel was pleased with the turnout. “This event was partly an outgrowth of our dismay at so much of the negative programming on campus with respect to the Middle East. Israel is more than a mere conflict,” he said. “Instead of engaging in counterproductive, semantic quarrelling, we wanted to focus instead on one of Israel’s many positive aspects.”