For Jews Only: New West Bank Film Fund in Israel Causes Uproar

New regional film funds initiated by Culture Minister Miri Regev include one in the territories, aimed at resident Jewish artists. While one producer decries funding ‘distributed to people of one nationality or religion,’ another welcomes the boon for right-wingers

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, Jerusalem, October 9, 2016.
REUTERS/Gali Tibbon

Another noteworthy initiative spearheaded by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev is on its way. This time it involves the launching of new regional film funds in the Negev, Galilee and West Bank, which are calling for proposals for new feature films and documentaries. Filmmakers wishing to shoot in these areas are also invited to apply for financing from the new funds.

As expected, the launch of the fund in the occupied territories has elicited mixed responses. On one hand, there are protests that it will serve only Jewish residents, not Arab ones; on the other hand, there is support for the fact that the narrative of right-wing creative artists living in the settlements will finally have a place in the local cinematic landscape.

According to criteria approved last year, 13.5 percent of the Culture Ministry’s film-related budget will be allocated to the regional funds, if the requisite conditions are met. A few of the new entities are actually collaborative efforts involving existing funds and cultural institutions. For example, the Shomron Film Initiative is a joint project of the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund and the Shomron Community Center, in the northern West Bank. It offers financial support to local residents interested in developing and producing documentaries and other genres. According to the guidelines on the Gesher website, applicants must be Israeli citizens who live in one of the communities listed – which include only Jewish ones.

“Hi friends, the beloved Gesher Fund, which I used to be proud of working for as an artistic adviser, has invited new bids from anyone who believes the Jewish race is superior to the Arab one and who assumes that living under military rule is a legitimate solution for Palestinians residing in the area. If there are roads for Jews only, and if robbing land and denying human rights stir in you a desire for making films – this is the bid for you!” wrote documentary producer Daniel Sivan on his Facebook page. (Sivan’s new documentary series on Nazi death camp guard John Demanjuk, called “The Devil Next Door,” is due to air on Netflix next month.)

“Setting up a fund that supports filmmaking in the occupied territories with Israeli taxpayers’ money amounts to creeping annexation, which is happening in many areas, obviously, but is happening now more forcefully in the realm of culture, thanks to this fund,” producer Liran Atzmor told Haaretz. “As long as the fate of those territories has not been determined, one cannot accept the fact that public funds are distributed there to people of only one color, one nationality and one religion.”

Atzmon warns that such a fund could spark a rupture with foreign investors in Israeli movies and television: “Along with restrictions that are already in place regarding economic cooperation with what is produced in the territories, there will be even more problems with work produced with the help of a fund that’s located in the territories, serving only a small portion of the people who live there. This puts at risk any possibility that these movies will get supported by bodies and funds that now invest millions of dollars in Israeli production.”

For her part, Limor Pinhasov, head of the Israel Directors Guild, wrote on her Facebook page that it will be interesting to see what movies are produced under the new Culture Ministry scheme, adding that she’d be happy if some talented directors were discovered.

Moreover, cinematographer Eliran Knoller noted that more than 400,000 Israelis live beyond the Green Line (i.e., the 1967 borders): “I’m sure of two things: They are human beings and some have interesting stories to tell. There is much hatred toward them but hatred is always a function of ignorance. I’d be glad to see films they make precisely because they live in controversial locations. I wonder why they haven’t been lectors in the different film funds up to now.”

In its response, Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum protested the lack of clear guidelines regarding the new funds’ distribution of money. “The initiative involving the funds is a worthy one, but the way it will be implemented is misguided,” the forum wrote. “More than 13 million shekels ($3.7 million) have been allocated annually to these regional funds – more than what is allocated to producing documentaries and student films combined – without determining the basic principles of investment that define to whom and how the money is distributed. The forum, along with other professional filmmaking bodies, is trying to correct these flaws by amending legislation and trying to increase funding allocated to the budget, especially in the realm of regional cinema.”

In 2016, the Association of Civil Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice against new regulations initiated by Miri Regev in the realms of theater, dance and music, which stipulated that extra support would be offered to companies or individuals performing in the settlements – while reducing funding for anyone declining to appear there. The petition, on which the High Court has yet to rule, claims that such policies would infringe on the freedom of expression of filmmakers, artists and actors, and discriminate against them due to their political views.

The Gesher Film Fund’s response: “The Gesher Fund has been operating for more than 20 years as a public entity to encourage and empower cinematic endeavors in the geographical and social peripheries of the State of Israel. As a public fund, the money it allocates is intended to give an opportunity to any creative artist, regardless of his or her agenda, to be part of the cinematic enterprise in the country ... Based on its principles, the political opinions of those who make decisions at the fund are irrelevant and are not aimed at furthering a policy that gives preference to one group of artists or another.

“The criticism being voiced by some in the industry is actually a call for boycotting a certain group of artists who seek to be part of the cinema industry in Israel, and an effort to deny them rights equal to those of their colleagues. At stake here are public funds and it is inconceivable that artists who are tax-paying citizens of Israel will be boycotted, even if we don’t agree with their political views, lifestyle or choice of where to live. In addition, the money in question will be allocated not just to local residents but to all artists who seek to film in certain locations, regardless of their agenda.”

The statement continued: “The criticism being expressed does not surprise us. This is not the first time the fund is being attacked for supporting artists belonging to social groups of one kind or another ... The Gesher Fund does not and will not discriminate against any artist on the basis of religion, opinions, lifestyle or place of residence.”