Screaming Israel Is a 'Police State' Isn't Enough

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat could have congratulated Mohammed Bakri on his decision to return to the Hebrew stage, being one of the more significant Arab artists contributing to Israeli culture.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat missed a great opportunity to contribute to a debate on Israeli culture when she chose instead to pick up Im Tirtzu's boxing gloves. Livnat could have congratulated Mohammed Bakri on his decision to return to the Hebrew stage, being one of the more significant Arab artists contributing to Israeli culture.

She could have noted that Bakri's playing a female role in a production of "The House of Bernarda Alba" is an interesting take on issues repeatedly addressed by culture researchers. When Federico Garcia Lorca wrote about women, he "also" thought about men. Lorca is the spiritual father of many artists, including Pedro Almodovar. Lorca wasn't only a "leftist" but also gay and was murdered for that reason - not because of what he wrote, but because of who he was.

The minister could have mentioned that Bakri was innocent, as the courts found no reason to find him guilty of libel. She could have ironically stated that "in defense of Tel Aviv's leftist Tzavta Theater, they also chose not to screen Bakri's film," while the establishment-oriented Tel Aviv Cinematheque screened "Jenin, Jenin" despite the ridiculous demonstrations in the square outside.

But Livnat chose to behave like a sports minister, or, to be precise, like some fans of that Premier League team who greet some of Israel's greatest players, who happen to be Arabs, with the chant "This is Israel, Toama / This is the Jewish state / I hate you Salim Toama / I hate all the Arabs."

Im Tirtzu has proceeded to a new stage in its war on democracy. From a battle over repertoire - taking advantage of the fear and silence of most senior officials in the institutions targeted by the organization's incitement - Im Tirtzu is now trying to choose who will be active in culture. Still, we must say the truth out loud: Im Tirtzu is being vocal about a policy that has already existed for years in cultural institutions. Yes, these actions have always been carried out with a touch of shame and off-the-record explanations. Yet we have to be especially wary of the media's self-righteousness while dealing with Im Tirtzu.

Consider the organization's technique against Bakri; it's the same one the press uses, inserting moral panic into headlines - using the wide gap between the criminal and non-criminal. It's a technique usually brought to perfection by the police, the State Prosecutor's Office and the Shin Bet security service, who determine a person's "behavior pattern."

Treason is a charge that fits this pattern: A circle is drawn around the suspect, then the charge is proved by a "recurring pattern" that really has nothing to do with the alleged wrongdoing. Does Bakri's film have any connection to the fact that he's one of the most important actors of his generation? Does the court's criticism of how the Israel Defense Forces is portrayed in the film have anything to do with the demand to prevent Bakri from appearing onstage?

It is regrettable that the left, too, has used this technique for many years, and we needn't go as far as the Arlosoroff murder trial in the 1930s , the persecution of Etzel and Lehi members of the right-wing underground after Israel's founding, or the ostracizing of the acclaimed poet Uri Zvi Greenberg. The remains of the Israeli left, the various small splinter groups, are the direct descendants of the kind of totalitarianism that was so deftly analyzed by Hannah Arendt and made her attack the New Left in her final years. When fighting fascists like Im Tirtzu, screaming "police state" at the top of your lungs simply isn't enough.

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