When the Hamas-linked Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) sponsored a “humanitarian” flotilla last summer to try and break the Israeli “siege” of Gaza, the purpose was not merely to engineer a showdown between Israeli commandos and armed IHH “peace activists.” Far more vital to the IHH’s cause was the ensuing campaign to demonize Israel in the international media, a campaign in which propagandists such as documentary filmmaker Iara Lee played a key role.
Lee later appropriated the language of the American Civil Rights Movement to describe herself and the IHH:
Israeli spokespeople insist that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a provocation. It was, in the sense that civil rights protesters in the American south who sat at segregated lunch counters represented a provocation to segregationists, or in the sense that all nonviolent protests against the illegitimate acts of a government are by definition provocations. Under an illegal siege, the delivery of aid to civilians is a prohibited act; the intent of our humanitarian convoy was to violate this unjust prohibition.
This account of what happened on the Mavi Marmara was reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Huffington Post, and in the O/R Books anthology Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Online it was accompanied by footage Lee shot of the event. Touted as “the video Israel doesn’t want you to see,” Lee’s images, showing the IHH attacking Israeli soldiers with slingshots and other weapons, dramatically undermine her claims of innocent moral witness.
Who is Iara Lee and what was she doing on a ship determined to provoke an agitprop showdown with Israeli soldiers? And how is she involved in the next flotilla? The answers to these questions cast a harsh light on the movement supporting Hamas by making the “siege” of Gaza into another skirmish in the international propaganda war against Israel.
Lee first began her film career in the 1980s. She was the producer of the Sao Paulo International Film Festival – located in her native Brazil – from 1984 through 1989. She relocated to New York City and began Caipirinha Productions, a multi-media company. (The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail.)
Behind Lee’s relocation to the US was her relationship with a new patron. In 1986 – when she was 20 and he was 47 – Lee met sports mogul and art film enthusiast George Gund III at the Berlin Film Festival. The couple married and the wealthy Gund started producing and distributing her films.
Throughout the 1990s Lee’s work centered on cultural issues. Her first feature documentary, “Synthetic Pleasures” (1995) focused on technology and art and featured countercultural figures Timothy Leary and R.U. Sirius. No company would release the film so Lee and Gund distributed it themselves. Lee followed this in 1998 with “Modulations,” a movie exploring the history of electronic music.
Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 Lee has lived abroad and grown increasingly engaged in leftist political causes. The shift is reflected in her documentaries. In 2006 she lived in Lebanon, and claimed afterwards that her virulently anti-Israel political views were the result of having “experienced firsthand the 34-day Israeli bombardment of that country.” (The fact that Israel’s reaction was a response to Hezbollah’s terrorist attacks does not enter her discussion of her political development.) By 2008 Lee was living in Iran with the goal of, “promoting arts & culture for global solidarity.”
Lee has released a film this year called “Cultures of Resistance” that compiles her adventures with more than a dozen other activists. The next showing of “Cultures of Resistance” will be sponsored by Code Pink on June 29 in Los Angeles. Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans will be on the panel and Lee will participate via skype from the Audacity of Hope in the Gaza “freedom” flotilla.
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