Iranian Filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Visit to Israel Angers Critics Back Home

The head of the Iranian cinema organization has asked the Film Museum in Iran to remove the section dedicated to him, and Iranian academics published an open letter asking him not to visit Israel. His response: 'Why not start a peace movement?'

Emil Salman

Iranian officials are furious over the visit of filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf to Israel. According to reports published on Tuesday, Javad Shamaghdari, the head of the Iran Cinema Organization, asked the Film Museum of Iran to do away with the exhibit of his works, and remove all of his prizes on display there.

The report was published on the news website Iran Pulse, part of the Al-Monitor group that reports on the Middle East. The report noted that Makhmalbaf made his first ten films with support from revolutionary institutions and government agencies in Iran, although now he is being embraced by “criminal Zionism” and the “illegal regime” in Jerusalem. “A few lost and rootless people, who stand against the greatness of the Iranian nation and go after wicked awards, are ready to allow their historic and Islamic identity be looted,” Shamaghdari wrote.

Makhamalbaf became the first Iranian director to officially visit Israel last week, when he was received as guest of honor at the Jerusalem Film Festival. There he screened his latest film, The Gardener, a documentary filmed in Israel in which he discusses religious issues, peace, and war with a gardener at the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. At a press conference and in interviews with Israeli media, Makhmalbaf conveyed a message of peace. I believe that we need to get to know each other through literature, cinema, and culture, and then there will be no more need for war between us, he said.

Several days ago a group of students, academics and Iranian activists published an open letter to Makhmalbaf asking him not to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival. They wrote that his visit violates the international call for BDS (boycott, divestments and sanctions) directed against Israel, because of the occupation of the West Bank and oppression of the Palestinians.

“We are deeply dismayed at Mr. Makhmalbaf’s disregard for the global movement for Palestinian human rights and the implicit support for Israel’s apartheid policies represented by his decision to attend a film festival directly sponsored by the Israeli government, particularly given that he is being prominently honored by the festival with a special tribute,” the letter read in part. “We recognize the repression that led to Mr. Makhmalbaf’s own exile, and we sympathize with his suffering as a filmmaker who has been persecuted by the Iranian regime. At the same time we insist again on the political and ethical responsibilities that we as human beings have to resist oppression and tyranny wherever they may be.”

Iran Pulse quoted Makhmalbaf’s response to the letter, which was given to BBC Persian. “Boycotting and writing statements does not solve anything. Why don’t the intellectuals try to solve the problems by traveling and having dialogue? Why is there no effort to remove religious hatred?” He continued, “Not going to Israel has become fashionable. Why not start a peace movement? Why not start a movement to reduce religious hatred?

“In Israel, every year a thousand students graduate with a degree in cinema,” Makhmalbaf continued. “Go and see how enchanted they are with Iranian cinema. How can it be that a people can be in love with their enemy’s cinema? We have to stop this possible war that may provoke all of us.”