“Advocate” Documents the Battles of an Israeli Activist

Naomi Fry in The New Yorker:

The thought-provoking Israeli documentary “Advocate,” from the directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche, opens with its subject, the human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, making her way resolutely toward the elevators at the district court in Tel Aviv. A short and solidly built woman in her seventies, with a mop of dark hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, Tsemel is on her way to the courthouse’s detention cells to meet with a client. “Is it going down?” she asks as she approaches the elevator’s nearly closed doors, before sticking her leg between them and muscling her way in. “Lea, what will become of you? When will you mend your ways?” a man inside the elevator asks her. “Who, me? I’m a lost cause,” she answers.

The exchange is joshing, but Tsemel, an Israeli Jew who has been practicing human-rights law since 1972, is a controversial figure in her country—one whose determination to thrust a tenacious leg forward and crack open the doors of the uniform Zionist narrative has often been met with her compatriots’ deep anger. In her first trial, she defended members of the Arab-Jewish cell Red Front. Their leader, Udi Adiv, a politically radicalized former I.D.F. paratrooper, was charged with treason for delivering classified information to Syria. (Adiv claimed that he was attempting to work toward the liberation of the Palestinian people.) Over the past four-and-a-half decades, Tsemel has focussed her practice on defending Palestinians who, as she explains in a TV interview from the nineties that is included in the documentary, “you call terrorists, but that the average person in the world would call freedom fighters.”

More here.