Culture Minister Miri Regev on Wednesday asked Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav to cancel a presentation on the event “Nakba and Return,” part of a local film festival, scheduled for Friday even though the event is not funded or publicized by the municipality.
The event is being sponsored by Zochrot, an organization that works to raise awareness of what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe), the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during Israel’s War of Independence. It is expected to last two hours and include a discussion titled “From Nakba to Return” and the screening of two short films shown at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque earlier this month. The group has rented the Haifa Cinematheque for the event, which is part of the fifth annual 48mm Film Festival.
In her letter to the mayor, Regev said she took a grave view of the festival and expects Yahav to cancel it immediately. According to Regev, the festival is “a song of praise for the Palestinian narrative and the right of return, which seeks to undermine our sovereignty and the very existence of the State of Israel.” She then complained that the event was to take place in a venue owned by the municipal company Ethos, adding that she “is shocked how Haifa, a city that’s based on coexistence between Jews and Arabs, provides a platform with municipal funds to the festival.”
The Haifa Municipality responded, “This is not a municipal event or one that is funded or publicized in any way by the municipality. However, the issue is undergoing a legal evaluation.”
Zochrot said, “The holding of the festival for the fifth year and its success testify to the importance of raising the Nakba and the return of Palestinian refugees to the public agenda. We believe that only the Jewish public in Israel taking responsibility for the Nakba and realizing the right of return will lead to a lasting peace and integration into the region in which we live.”
Last month Regev asked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to check whether the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where the main festival was held, could be fined for violating the Nakba Law. Two years ago Regev set up a committee of ministry employees to examine whether the festival’s films violated the Nakba Law. After the panel determined that the festival’s films “presented contentious content but do not amount to a violation of the budget law,” Regev decided then not to seek to fine the cinematheque.
This is also not the first time that the minister has approached Haifa’s mayor in this fashion; in the past she demanded that Yahav cancel a Breaking the Silence event in the city although it was a private event.
In April, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel complained to Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber about the minister’s interference in cultural events. In May Zilber said she had explained to Regev that her intervention conveyed a problematic message to artists and institutions, which feel they are being constantly tested and monitored by the government.
“Limiting the possibility of holding cultural events based on their content leads to a particularly severe violation of freedom of expression, since the content of events and the makeup of those who take part in them are their essential core,” Zilber wrote. ACRI attorney Dan Yakir on Wednesday asked Zilber to intervene again, “And make crystal clear to the culture minister the limits of her power and authority under constitutional and administrative law, so as to stop the continuing violation of freedom of expression and cultural rights.”
The event was brought to Regev’s attention by Yaniv Ben Shoshan and Ariel Kelner, Likud members from Haifa, who claimed that Zochrot “aims to change public consciousness in Israel in general and in Haifa in particular by introducing concepts like ‘Nakba’ and ‘return’ into Israeli discourse and making them legitimate in Israeli society, while distorting the truth, misrepresenting history and undermining the State of Israel and the dignity of the fallen of Israel’s wars.”