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ISRAEL: Will Israelis take it all off for Spencer Tunick?

March 11, 2010 |  7:10 am

Israel is abuzz with talk that photographer Spencer Tunick is coming with plans of staging Israelis for his trademark mass-nude landscapes.

He hasn't arrived yet, but word of him has already reached Israel's parliament, which discussed the matter Wednesday and passed the hot potato on to its education committee for further debate.

Religious legislators are aghast. Every prostitution has suddenly become a form of art, moralized Nissim Zeev of the right-wing Shas party, invoking Sodom and Gomorrah. Demanding to know if the country had gone mad, he was even more appalled to learn that Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov enthusiastically supports the project.

Responding for Misezhnikov, who was out of the country, Deputy Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Orit Noked said that Israel sees great importance in positioning itself as an "attractive, modern, vibrant, unique and safe" tourist destination.

Zeev hadn't cooled down the following morning and asked anyone with an ounce of shame to oppose what he called lechery. On one hand, he said, education authorities speak high and lofty about the need to restore values to education, while on the other hand "complete corruption, wanton abandonment and promiscuity" are rife. If Israelis want to preserve the values of the Jewish state, he said, this depravity posing as art must be stopped.

In fact, the group of Israeli students behind the initiative to bring Tunick to Israel and "make history" are thinking of the Jewish state -- though not in the same way as Zeev. The five third-year communications students in search of a final project decided to go for something different and unique in the international- outreach department, to improve Israel's image and force people to engage in discourse that is not about the Mideast conflict. In short, Israel unarmed -- and undressed.

They've launched a campaign called undressingisrael.com with a Hebrew interactive map offering different locations, with little ditties about each one. There's also an English-language Facebook group.

Some politicians do defend the right to bare arms -- along with everything else.

Ilan Gilon, a left-wing legislator, said Zeev should just chill. "It must be his pornographic mind that makes him think nudity is a bad thing," Gilon said in a radio interview Thursday. Zeev "represents the darkness of places Tunick does not visit, like Iran and Saudi Arabia," said Gilon, who added that he can think of a thing or two in the Holy Land that would be worse than artistic nudity. Actually, Gilon said, his parliamentary faction -- three Meretz party legislators -- considered posing for Tunick but then decided against it.

"We didn't want to drive away the tourists," he explained.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

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