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Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Gal Gadot

By Tori Preston | Miscellaneous | February 13, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | Miscellaneous | February 13, 2018 |

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Hey Pajibans! Are you ready for another fun helping of dubious advice from strangers on the internet? Well that’s too bad, because today’s question isn’t really asking for help. It’s asking us, Pajiba, about our own obvious lack of coverage in one specific area. Blindspots and mea culpas ahoy!

(Reminder: You can also ask us questions, preferably advicey ones, at [email protected]. But we meant it when we said this was “Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything” — and apparently we haven’t yet found a question that doesn’t qualify!)

Here’s this week’s thoughtful & slightly uncomfortable inquiry:

Dear Pajiba,

I’ve been an avid reader for a long, long time. Seriously, I don’t remember what was my life before I discovered the website. I’ve learned so much through it, got so many good recommendations of TV Shows, movies and books. I used to comment a lot, I don’t know why I stopped a couple of years ago, I think it was a mixture of couldn’t catch up and sometimes didn’t feel smart enough like the rest.

What I love the most is the politics and the activism. Love your no-nonsense and no tolerance to bullshit style. But there’s something that’s been bothering me in the last year or so.

So after a long time thinking and having doubts about it, I decided that I won’t let my anxiety to get in the way, and I think it’s time to talk about Gal Gadot.

First of all, full disclosure: I’m Palestinian. My father is Palestinian, my mom is Syrian but her parents (my grandparents) are also Palestinian refugees that were banished to Syria when the state of Israel was created.

Although technically, I’m an Israeli citizen now, I use to have a Jordanian passport, just like all Palestinian/Arab citizens of East Jerusalem, we don’t get Israeli nationality, we get Jordanian ones, Israel being an apartheid state, that just how things work. I asked for the Israeli one when I moved to Tel Aviv, because it just makes life easier. It was hell to get it, cost me lots of time and money, but I got it.

I’m also very proud to call myself a Palestinian, LGBT, feminist and human right activist. As a Palestinian gay man living in Israel, life can be very alienating sometimes, from all societies. Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about myself, I just wanted to get that out of the way. Gal Gadot.

She looks like a very nice person, even my boyfriend (who is also Israeli) used to go to the same class in high school and they used to be friends. And I have friends who served with her in the Israeli army.

Anyway, it’s been a little bit hard seeing the last few months all the praising of Gadot, with Pajiba being the best feminist website on the face of the earth in my opinion, ignoring her politics and idealism, when no one else in Pajiba gets that treatment.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Gadot served in the army… Well, actually I do, but I also do understand that reality is complicated, and someone at the age of 18 might not have much of an option (refusing serving it army is punished by military jail sentence, actually many Israelis do that), and as I said, I know friends that served with her in the army, and I had many boyfriends who also served when they were young.

The problems is her still supporting the Israeli army blindingly, an army who is occupying and oppressing millions of Palestinians every day for decades. You cannot be a feminist and support the IDF. Criticism of Israel is one of the keys to feminism, you cannot be a feminist while ignoring the basic rights and dignity of millions of Palestinian women who are being oppressed by the same army she so proudly supports. It’s just the same like white-feminism, something that Pajiba has always been very outspoken against.

I wish if you would’ve addressed the issue at least once.

I’m sorry if this is too long, and I’m going to stop now.

And again, thank you so much for the website, obviously I’ve never even considered stopping visiting it daily (like, 10 times a day) because of this, but it was important to me to bring this to your attention.

First off, thank you for sticking with us for so long. And thank you for caring enough to ask us this question, because you’re right — we haven’t covered Gadot, or at least her politics, with the same level of scrutiny that we have other actors and figures. And if we’re being honest, it’s something we’re aware of. We’ve discussed the matter internally in the past, and it’s a somewhat divisive topic amongst our staff — not because we don’t believe that the Palestinian refugees have suffered oppression, but because we’re not always on the same page about how to discuss that in relation to Gal Gadot. Your question led to a long, enlightening discussion, and a bit of self-examination. And while I may not be able to provide you with the sort of hardline stance about Gadot that you may be looking for, I hope I can at least explain the nature of our blindspot.

Because really, the blindspot is the question here. And we’re hardly alone in covering Gadot without unpacking what her support of the Israeli Defense Forces might mean. I think there are a number of factors that have influenced us and other American media outlets:

- She’s a fairly new quantity here. And by that I mean, most of us came to know her as Wonder Woman. Sure, she’d already joined the Fast & Furious franchise beforehand, but if we’re talking real, mainstream name recognition — it’s for her lead role in Wonder Woman and as part of the wider DCEU over the past couple of years. And that shiny newness means we don’t have the same level of exposure to her or her idealism that someone who has watched her rise to international fame from Israel would have.

- People, and the media, have taken the easy route and conflated Gal Gadot WITH Wonder Woman. And by that I mean that Wonder Woman the character is a feminist icon, and because Gal Gadot is now the face of that character she reaps the benefit of that association. If we want to talk about feminism and use a picture of Wonder Woman as a header, we either go to the comics or we go to the movie, which means we see Gadot’s face on that article. To her credit, she has taken that mantle and run with it. She supports feminist causes. She helped get alleged assaulter Brett Ratner removed from Wonder Woman 2. But still, if we’re being honest, most of what the media confers onto her is based on a role she plays. And that’s sloppy.

Now, when we jokingly conflate Chris Evans with Captain America, we have his very outspoken political views (as evidenced on social media) to point to. With Gadot, at least when it comes to her feelings about the situation in Israel, we don’t have as much evidence. Most of what people point to is this Facebook post from 2014:

During that time, there was an outbreak of violence. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed. A Palestinian teenager was burned to death in what appeared to be retaliation. Hamas started launching rockets toward Israel from Gaza, while Israeli forces performed air strikes in return. The Palestinian injuries and fatalities far outweighed the Israeli numbers, but there was violence coming from both sides. In that context, Gadot’s post of support for the IDF makes some amount of sense. She is seemingly calling out Hamas, and pointing out that they are hiding behind Palestinian women and children. She is expressing her love of IDF alongside what appears to be a belief in coexistence. But that’s what I’m reading into it as an outsider, unfamiliar with the way the situation reads on the ground. I don’t know the nuances of the discourse, just like I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear of air strikes or suicide bombings.

But I can imagine that it might be hard for Palestinians to see a prominent Israeli like Gadot rise to stardom and be positioned as the modern face of feminism, all based on a role her own IDF combat training helped prepare her for.

- Furthermore, when we criticize actors for their feminism and/or their politics, more often than not they’re American. We are comfortable unpacking their political views because they are rooted in the same system we are. And even here, we may express support for our (all volunteer) military while disagreeing with the political machinations behind its deployment. Of course, we also support the police who protect us while still protesting the abuses some officers perpetrate from behind the safety of their badge. It’s possible to do both! There is nuance!

But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… there are years of abuses and intricate politics to unpack, and many Americans don’t have the exposure to feel comfortable weighing in, let alone how to parse the beliefs of soldiers whose participation was conscripted. Sure, it’s obvious that the treatment of Palestinian refugees is… well, it’s a human rights violation. Hell, a lot of Americans aren’t even aware of their country’s own contribution to the situation! Right now the US is cutting more than half of its scheduled payment to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which provides humanitarian aid, education, social services and medical care to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Instead of $125 million, we’re giving $60 million. And what happens to those teenagers who lose their access to a UN-sponsored education that promotes human rights? What groups are waiting to pick up the slack?

But innocents, women and children on both sides, have been hurt. There are two groups of people who have both historically been dehumanized and oppressed, acting out against each other to preserve their identity and space in the world — and civilians are stuck in the middle between politicians who are failing them and extremist groups. So I agree that you can’t be feminist and ignore the oppression of Palestinian women, but you also can’t be feminist and ignore the violence against Israeli women either. And it’s that tit for tat that makes me, personally, uncomfortable with dropping a pithy hot take about Gal Gadot’s views. I don’t know what her experience is. I don’t know how the conflict has impacted her personally, or what propaganda she’s been fed. Does she support the IDF as a peacekeeping tool, a tool to protect civilians on both sides from extremists, or a tool for the continued oppression of Palestinians? I’m honestly not sure where her mind is at.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. The IDF has perpetrated some terrible crimes against Palestinians — that’s a fact, regardless of what circumstances might have motivated them. Is it possible to support the IDF and support coexistence? Does supporting the IDF cancel out all the other solid humanitarian work someone does around the world? Maybe Gadot is avoiding making a clear public stance as much as we are avoiding asking her to, because once you open that door, the expectation is that you take an all-or-nothing position.

- But that isn’t an excuse. Look, it isn’t fair to hold Gadot up as the symbolic face of the IDF just because she was a soldier, any more than it’s fair to hold her up as the symbolic face of feminism just because she plays Wonder Woman. But it IS fair to ask her about her views. And it is fair to expect the media to do their research, and to inform others, and to open this discourse, in all of its nuance, for the sake of Palestinian and Israeli women. It’s not about Gal Gadot’s feminist bonafides. It’s about OURS.

- And though it’s hardly an excuse, a factor that I do think has played into the general negligence regarding examining Gadot’s politics is that… well, it’s been a rough year. A rough couple of years. And I think when Wonder Woman came out, and didn’t suck, there was a certain attitude of not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. Couldn’t we just have this one feel-good feminist thing to enjoy, while everything else seemed to be crumbling around us? And while that’s understandable, it’s also privileged and lazy and ultimately not OK.

I don’t know if this answers your question. There’s more I could spitball about this topic, like the fact that for a lot of non-Jewish Americans the Jewish experience is seemingly defined by The Holocaust and they have a hard time reconciling the idea that victims can also be oppressors (or the fact that Jews weren’t the only people affected by the Holocaust). And while I personally am not comfortable taking a hard stance about Gal Gadot’s politics given the information I have available, I think that other Overlords feel differently — and to be clear, not condemning Gadot doesn’t mean that I, too, support the actions of the IDF against Palestinian refugees, just like criticizing Israel’s actions doesn’t mean I support Hamas. Regardless, I think we all recognize that NOT talking about her politics has been a blindspot, and that at the very least we should be bringing it up when we cover her. We should judge her the way we judge everyone else — but it’s worth examining our biases and our position as outsiders to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when we DO judge her.

So again, I want to thank you for asking this question. Because it’s this kind of feedback that helps push us to do better.

Tori Preston is the managing editor of Pajiba. She tweets here. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.