The first film that Michael Lucas made about Israel was called “Men of Israel” and featured some of this country’s most beautiful male specimens in some of the most beautiful natural landscapes, enjoying each other’s, um, company. It was supposedly the first pornographic film shot on location in the Holy Land with an all-Israeli/Jewish cast and apparently became a hit for Lucas Entertainment, the gay adult film production company that Lucas founded.
Lucas’ interest in Israel isn’t just a filmmaker’s taste for the exotic “other” – it actually stems from his deep and passionate Zionism. The Russian-born Lucas, who is Jewish, has become known for his spicy brand of pro-Israel activism and efforts to beef up gay tourism here.
Among other things, he has written political opinion pieces detailing Israel’s impressive record on gay rights, organized gay tours of the country and recently – and very publicly – pressured the New York LGBT Community Center to cancel meetings and events held by anti-Israel groups.
His latest film, “Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land,” premiered this past weekend at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. That’s right, as in a totally legit Jewish film fest in the South.
Lucas’ most recent project is actually a, um, straight documentary about how great it is to be gay in Israel. It features interviews with community activists, gay celebs and politicians, including MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), the first openly gay MK elected to the Knesset.
To be clear, neither MK Horowitz, nor any of the film’s other participants, shed their clothes. Lucas, in an interview with the Huffington Post, called the title a “tongue-in-cheek recognition of my background in the adult industry.”
“I’ve been frustrated at how little people know about Israel,” he said in the interview. “[Israeli culture] is actually very progressive and tolerant. That’s especially true when it comes to gay rights, which are more advanced there than in the United States.”
Well, this is quite a welcome respite for the Israeli government, which hasn’t fared so well cinematically this year: Two other high-profile documentaries that earned Oscar nominations, “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras,” highlight the less photogenic side of Israel.
What a relief it must be to Bibi, et al., therefore, that a gay porn kingpin should come to the rescue and restore the country’s good image. Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who recently came out as no longer a homophobe, should be thrilled.
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Last summer, Scott Perlmutter, a 44-year-old gay TV executive from Los Angeles, went on a 10-day vacation to Mykonos—a tiny, gay-friendly island off the coast of Greece. Among the dizzying array of skimpy Speedos, ridiculously fit men, and breathtaking sunsets, Perlmutter was so high on life, he had to look down to see heaven.
Like many of his gay friends, Perlmutter is a travel fanatic. His yearly trips are carefully planned months in advance and include a mixture of fun and culture. In just the last few years, he’s been to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, and Berlin. He’s even gone on a lavish gay cruise to Italy.
But when his trendy (and, more relevantly, non-Jewish) friends suggested Tel Aviv as their next destination, Perlmutter thought they were a bit meshugah—out of their minds.
“Last time I was in Israel, back in the ‘80s, the airport was a field with some planes on it,” says Perlmutter. “There was barely a tarmac.”
He was shocked to discover that not only has the city’s airport undergone a billion-dollar facelift (Ben-Gurion was recently named the third-best airport in the Middle East, after Dubai and Abu Dhabi, by the Airport Service Quality Awards, the Oscars of the airport industry) but Tel Aviv itself was unrecognizable.
“It was incredible,” says Perlmutter. “It was like Vegas on steroids.”
Perlmutter and his friends spent the entire 10-day trip in Tel Aviv, never leaving the city limits. They went to the gay beach, partied at gay bars and nightclubs, even stayed at a gay hotel, one of several that have popped up around the city in recent years. But perhaps the biggest draw, according to Perlmutter, was the never-ending supply of good-looking men.
“My neck almost twisted off from looking at them,” Perlmutter says, laughing. “I had a $500 phone bill from all the pictures of hot men I sent to my friends back home.”
In the last three years, Tel Aviv has become the new “it” place among gay tourists. The city estimates more than 50,000 LGBT travelers will make their way to Tel Aviv this year—and that number is expected to double in 2014.
A report by the Gay European Tourist Association, which came out in October, shows gay Europeans spend up to $65 billion each year on travel. Add to that the $62 billion gay Americans spend on their vacations annually, and it’s no wonder Tel Aviv is ecstatic about its new pink-city status.
But unlike, say, Amsterdam or Berlin, which have developed into gay hotspots naturally over decades, Tel Aviv’s coming out was a much quicker and more calculated affair.
TLV came 3rd in the “Ultimate Dream City” category
4th in the “Romance City” Category
2nd in the “City that never sleeps” Category
7th in the “Best Resort Town” Category
7th in the “Food and Wine” Category
2nd in the “Pride City” Category