Lawrence Bender Loves Israel
By Lawrence Bender
LEFT: The city of Nazareth in Israel. RIGHT: Quentin Tarantino, Diane Kruger, Lawrence Bender and Christoph Waltz at the London premiere of Inglourious Basterds
I’ve been thinking about Israel a lot lately. I recently produced Inglourious Basterds, a film about WWII, and held a premiere in Tel Aviv. Going to Israel causes me to reflect on why I feel so connected to that country. There’s the Jewish thing, of course. But it’s more than ethnic solidarity. It’s also the strange, jarring and fascinating disconnect between the Israel that exists on CNN and the Israel I find when I land at Ben Gurion Airport.
On TV Israel is suicide bombs and air strikes, screaming ambulances and weeping mothers. On the ground Israel is sweaty nightclubs and crowded bars, restaurants where even the busboys speak English and the chefs studied in France. It is museums and symphonies and beaches and high-tech parks.
I love Israel for the fact that even in the face of the mess we read about in the headlines, its people never stop living full and vibrant lives. And I’ve always found it frustrating that for so many in America and around the world, the only Israel they will ever know is the narrow vision they see in the media.
For a long time, my conclusion was Israel needed better PR. But more recently I’ve been thinking it’s something bigger than that. It’s something about the challenge of looking beyond the headlines to see the beauty that can only be found in everyday people’s lives.
It was the protests in Iran after their election that did it for me. Looking at that brave sea of people marching through Tehran, studying their faces, I realized how familiar they were. They looked like Israelis. The same tough, but somehow friendly eyes. The same exuberance.
And it struck me that for Iranian-Americans who feel about Iran as I feel about Israel, seeing those protesters was probably the first time they saw the Iran they know and love finally shown on an American TV screen. Just as Israel’s reality gets distorted, and we miss the things that are best and brightest about that country, so too do we miss much of the world.
In speaking of the Middle East peace process, former President Bill Clinton once spoke of “the quiet miracle of a normal life.” That is exactly right. A normal life—a life of labor and love and laughter and movies and music and sickness and recovery and everything else that fills our days—that is where the glory of a nation lies. Israelis do normal life as miraculously and fully as any place on Earth. I admire them so deeply for it. And I’d bet given the chance, the people of Tehran would give them a run for their money.
So here is to the day when Iranian kids dance in Tel Aviv discos. Here’s to those everyday people with bright eyes and clever minds, to those with a sense of humor and a sense of compassion. They are the ones who make me love Israel and whom I wish the world knew better. They are the ones whose sacrifice I honor from the blood-soaked streets of Tehran. They are the ones who fill me with hope. And they are the ones, I am certain, who will yet build a better world.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JON FURNISS/WIREIMAGE.COM (INGLOURIOUS)
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.