Is an exhibit with more than fifty photos highlighting exclusion, violence, racial barriers, poverty and brutality in Israel good for the Jews and the future of Israel?
There has long been a tendency, in Israel as elsewhere, to keep these disturbing images out of sight, or to decry them as anti-Israel propaganda. But the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper does not endorse an averting of the eyes. “To Whom It May Concern: Photographs from the Archives of Haaretz Newspaper” is an exhibit, co-curated with the New Israel Fund (and coinciding with a joint, oversubscribed conference organized by the two organizations) that invites viewers to take a hard look at current realities.Its premise is that the future of the state is put at greater risk by those who would ignore all this malaise than it is by exposing these nasty problems and insisting on change before it is too late.
The exhibit is organized around five major “concerns:” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, state versus religion, attitudes towards ‘the Other,” as in Ethiopians Jews, Israeli Arabs and African Immigrants, the growing Economic Gap and the Erosion of the Law. In all, come prepared to confront the arch-antidote to all the sun-drenched posters of beckoning beaches, luscious wheat fields, proud pluralism and wholesome young soldiers that have heretofore largely shaped public perception of the Zionist achievement.
The five major themes demand our attention through powerful, unique and in many cases, unforgettable images, from 2000 to 2015. They are outstanding examples of hard-hitting photojournalism, showing great craft and little artsy pretension. The separation wall dwarfs a Palestine woman walking by, dazed Arabs sit among the rubble of bombed out houses, the frank, unblinking, stoic family of Abu Khmer gather for a portrait just days after the young Palestinian was burned alive by a Jewish zealot in revenge for the kidnapping deaths of three yeshiva boys. We see close-ups of civilian victims of Operation Protective Edge, wounded with shrapnel lodged in their heads, a bloodied Palestinian man tending to an injured boy after settlers have pelted their car with stones. The captions have the precise detailed annotation we would expect from a news organization.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominates, we also see an enraged Israeli soldier about to attack a demonstrating Haredi, protesters against an unequal economy sleeping outside on S’de Rothschild in Tel Aviv, African asylum seekers leaning against the fence of a detention center protesting the treatment of their fellow migrants. On a more hopeful side, a young Israeli soldier tries to help a wounded Palestinian woman and a large, lesbian couple jovially celebrate their same sex marriage, despite its non-status under the law.
The voluminous, high ceilinged Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery provides a gracious venue, its owners generously donating the space for the cause. This is a critical, horrified and possibly unfairly slanted gaze on a compelling land, throbbing with complexity, a painful composite of injustice and human suffering crying out for deserved attention and hard-to-come by solutions.
“To Whom It May Concern: Photographs from the Archives of Haaretz Newspaper” is on view at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 31 Mercer Street, Manhattan through January 30th.
Susan Reimer-Torn is the author of the memoir, “Not Such a Good Girl: Reflections on Rupture and Return.”