Juliette Binoche has gained international acclaim for her roles in dozens of feature films including Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Three Colors Trilogy, the romantic comedy Chocolat and recently Camille Claudel 1915.
Her Oscar-winning performance in the 1996 blockbuster The English Patient made her a household name in many countries.
In June, Binoche traveled to Tel Aviv for an event promoting French cosmetics brands sold by an Israeli drug store chain, Super-Pharm, which operates in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This prompted Michèle Sibony, a member of the Union Juive Française pour La Paix (the French Jewish Union for Peace) to write her an open letter that was published on 25 July by the French national magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.
In 2002, Binoche appeared on a French television program with the pro-Israel intellectual Alain Finkielkraut who spoke harshly of the Palestinians.
Binoche observed that Jews had lived through horror and then, through tears, said that she found it dispiriting that “sixty years after the Second World War, some Jewish people react this way. I think what [Nelson] Mandela did is marvelous. We know that after suffering for years, he was able to open a door… I’m sorry for crying.” Gesturing to Finkelkraut, Binoche said, “It is you who should be crying.”
Sibony makes reference to this incident in her powerful letter, an English version of which is here:
“Your tears were sincere”
Dear Juliette Binoche,
I allow myself to write you as I have loved you in all your movies, even those which I didn’t like. I love the searching actress you are. Searching for truth in yourself, in your artistic work, and in life.
I allow myself to write to you as I have just learnt that you lent your presence and beauty to a cosmetics publicity campaign called “Beauty City Paris” that took place in Tel Aviv on 26 June. This campaign was part of a promotion for the Super-Pharm drug store chain.
Promoting products could, at times, be part of an actor’s activity, but here, however, there is a catch:
The Coalition of Women for Peace, which has been struggling for years against the occupation, has created a website called Who Profits that indicates with great precision which Israeli and international companies profit from the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.
Such companies have installations in the occupied territories, a Palestinian workforce with no rights that is compelled to accept very low wages, and international and local distribution serving Israeli settlers illegally based on occupied land.
Profiting from occupation
Super-Pharm, this company that you have promoted and honored with your presence, figures prominently on Who Profits.
Present in numerous settlements around Jerusalem, Super-Pharm takes advantage of the illegal occupation and colonization for its own profit.
While perhaps you believed that it was an ordinary publicity campaign, you helped normalize a totally abnormal phenomenon.
However, the Israeli propaganda institutions, created to counter the boycott of Israel, understood it very well.
One website dedicated to that, Creative Communities for Peace (you would appreciate the name), celebrated your trip to Tel Aviv as a victory for them and included you among the artists who have accepted to go to Israel, demonstrating that there is a pro-Israel camp.
Against your will, perhaps, you are part of it.
In 2002, your tears were sincere
I am writing you as I, like many others, remember your tears on 30 March 2002, while facing Alain Finkielkraut’s reprimands. He stated, as serious as a pope of reactionary thought, that nowadays the oppressed are the ones holding all the rights.
I know that your tears were sincere. You then evoked Nelson Mandela and what he managed to do after years of suffering, his long detention, and apartheid endured by his people, as a model for Jews after their European tragedy.
This is no anodyne example when a decade later the Israeli parliament passes more and more discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, creates multiple statuses for others, confining them in new bantustans.
As we speak, Israel is organizing the forced displacement of 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins of the Negev (Naqab).
We are many
All this is drawing this regime closer to the apartheid of South Africa. While in 2002 no one was saying that, you, with your sensibility, already had the intuition.
At the time you took a position against the intolerable cruel fate done to the Palestinians. How I understand you! We are many, the citizens of this country who revolt against the dead-end politics of the Israeli government.
We are many who no longer tolerate the regular and violent attacks against the besieged population of Gaza – such as the last one, purely for electoral purposes.
We are many to think that these deadly politics for the Palestinian people, are at the same time suicidal for the Israeli people.
We are further outraged by the unconditional support of Israeli policies by the “international community” including our governments and the European Union. This support guarantees impunity and allows the headlong rush of continuous colonization and crimes.
A sinister play
Your presence in Tel Aviv made sense for the supporters of these policies – it was wanted, required, and valued by them.
Throughout these last years, the refusal of numerous artists to act in this sinister play is precisely what makes such a regime worry.
It is what they fear most today, thus your presence was significant to them, and this is what they want to show the Israeli population: ‘we are not isolated, there are many artists who continue to come and visit us. We can continue… You can continue.’
As much as I didn’t like the film Disengagement (2007) by Amos Gitai, on the so-called disengagement from Gaza in which you participated, you were splendid in it.
I didn’t like it for the almost nonexistent place of the Palestinians, who were about to be freed from the aggressive and cruel settlers – fewer than 10,000 settlers who, one must remember, made the daily lives of a million and a half people into a hell.
In this film, these settlers where shown as victims in unbearable scenes which suggested parallels with the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe who were victims of progroms before and during the Second World War.
As for the Palestinians, they had been liberated of these settlers only to be better confined in a prison of electronic walls, Iron Dome, drones, and white phosphorus bombs.
Disengagement hid that which should have been shown, silenced that which should have been said. But is this not precisely what disengagement is all about?
Can you see what is hidden?
I found the 2005 film Caché (Hidden) by Michael Haneke magnificent and you were sublime in your simplicity. So you must be aware of Haneke’s ethics and what he means by the “hidden which shapes the real.” This is what he endeavours to show.
Have you come across Palestinians in Tel Aviv? Have you seen, throughout Israel, any signs of occupation and oppression? I would be surprised! I had the chance to see that on numerous occasion, in that country which I know well and where I spend time regularly.
All is done so that it remains invisible, so that one would believe oneself to be in a radiant, idyllic Western city.
Don’t let yourself be used
Juliette, your tears were sincere, I don’t doubt that, but have your eyes been opened since or shut again to all this absence, all that is hidden, all that is unsaid, enabling, every day, the continuation of oppression, confinement, dispossession, and killing? Every day.
I would like to tell you, you in particular, because you are dear to me, and because your tears were sincere: don’t let yourself be used in this horror or in any other.
Refuse this instrumentalization of who you are and of your talent, and say it out loud!
Today we are hundreds of thousands, almost certainly millions, who think like you that all this should be stopped and that we must act to make that happen.
You can act simply by refusing to provide any sort of backing for these policies, by refusing oranges, avocados or dates planted behind the Apartheid wall on stolen lands.
You can act by refusing all that validates and strengthens the institutions of oppression and discrimination and by refusing to sing, to play, to pretend over there, as if nothing is happening.
Because it is precisely all of the above which helps them to continue.