Israel needs a liberal, open culture minister. One who increases the budgets for culture and works of art, understands what art is and, mainly, what artistic freedom means.
Outgoing Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has proved she does not fulfill these criteria. On Tuesday she called on Israeli filmmakers to exercise “self-censorship” and refrain from producing movies that cast aspersions on Israel and “libel it throughout the world.”
Israel has no better ambassadors at this time than its documentary filmmakers. Thanks to their critical, courageous films, Israel still musters remnants of sympathy in world public opinion. The Oscar nominations of two documentary features, “The Gatekeepers” (directed by Dror Moreh) and “5 Broken Cameras” (by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi), prove this.
These films, which Livnat, as she hastened to say, “wasn’t sorry that neither of them brought home the prize,” unmasked Israel’s real face to both Israel and the world. By so doing, they fulfilled their artistic and social role as penetrating critical works. They didn’t distort reality, as Livnat claims, they reflected it − even if the minister didn’t find this reality pleasing.
Six former Shin Bet security service chiefs and a Palestinian from Bil’in in the West Bank exposed a reality that Livnat would rather conceal. Livnat wants propaganda movies, Livnat wants self-censorship − something much more dangerous than government censorship. She utters lofty statements about Israel’s “strong, robust” democracy while undermining it with her own words.
If the artists heed the minister in charge of culture, there will be no real art created here and Israel would be even more ostracized. Documentary filmmaking, one of Israel’s most impressive art forms, is worthy of public and ministerial praise.
The minister’s job is to preserve and protect the absolute freedom of art, not lecture artists to censor their work. The fact that art is financed by public and government funds is a badge of honor − on condition they don’t censor its content, as Livnat would have them do.
A complex, conflicted reality calls for critical, not mobilized, art. True, in some countries this is not the case. Israel must not become one of them.
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