Limor Livnat
Limor Livnat Photo by Pool / Yedioth Ahronoth
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Emil Salman
'Villa Touma' director Suha Arraf. Received $400,000 from Israel Film Fund but is classifying her film as Palestinian overseas. Photo by Emil Salman

Filmmaker Suha Arraf received funding from Israeli institutions, primarily the Israel Film Fund, for the production of “Villa Touma.” She chose, however, to submit it to the Venice Film Festival as a Palestinian film. The move ignited a campaign of persecution against Arraf, and subsequently against the executive director of the Israel Film Fund, Katriel Schory, who refused to join the assault on Arraf.

Now Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat wants the funding provided by the foundation returned. This, despite Arraf’s willingness, with Schory’s encouragement, to remove “Palestine” from the film’s country of origin. “The opinion of the Culture Ministry’s legal counsel underscores the concern that the film’s maker of the film behaved cynically when she sought recognition and support for her film as an Israeli film,” Livnat said. “Film funds that serve as a conduit for financial support have a duty to ascertain that they are used for this purpose. It would appear that in the case of ‘Villa Touma,’ the film fund did not perform its duty.”

In response, Schory said that he too had expected Arraf to present her film as Israeli, but he stressed that there is no contractual obligation regarding the way a film is submitted to festivals. So far, he added, Arraf has met all her obligations, including detailed credit to the Israeli film funds that took part in financing her production.

Arraf’s decision does not justify the persecution campaign against her and against the film fund and Schory. The government of Israel should learn to accommodate all the complexities in the identity of its Palestinian citizens, and in any event to prevent political interference in the state’s cultural institutions — a practice that Livnat has actually upheld. The culture minister, who apparently envies her rivals on the right who are vying with each other in hate speech against Arabs, has launched all-out “Zionist” war on the filmmaker, and in so doing is crushing the Israel Film Fund underfoot.

Thanks to the film funds, the Israeli film industry presents the beautiful face of Israel to the world. Political interference will bring down the curtain on it and on Israeli culture in general.