Israeli Cinematheque Should Lose Funding for Holding Nakba Film Fest, Says Minister

Culture minister Livnat asks treasury to mull stopping support of Tel Aviv's only art-house cinema, which is hosting a Palestinian festival this weekend.

Israel's Ministry of Culture and Sports is seeking to cut off state support for the Tel Aviv Cinematheque because of the center’s plan to host a film festival this weekend on the subject of the Nakba and the right of Palestinians to return to homes they fled in Israel’s War of Independence. Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic, is the term that Palestinians use to refer to what happened to them when the State of Israel was founded in 1948.

The festival is an initiative of an Israeli non-profit organization, Zochrot, which seeks to promote awareness of the Nakba among Israelis, and advocates for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Culture Minister Limor Livnat has asked the treasury to explore the issue of state support for the Cinematheque, according to a statement issued by the ministry. Over the past year, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque has received 1.8 million shekels ($466,000) in government support. The budget law contains several provisions relating to possible cessation of such funding to recipients that earmark the money for activities that support the denial of the existence of Israel, incitement to racism or violence, encouragement of the armed struggle against Israel, or commemoration of the country's Independence Day as a day of mourning.

For her part, Livnat based her request on the latter clause.

“48 mm: The International Festival on Nakba and Return” (Nov. 27-29) is the second such event being held at the initiative of Zochrot at the Cinematheque. The first Nakba film festival was held last year, marking the 66th anniversary of the November 29th United Nations partition resolution, which provided for the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine. As with the 2013 event, the festival program this year features short films produced by Palestinian filmmakers as well as movies made elsewhere on the subject of the Nakba and the Arab refugees' return.

Pool / Yedioth Ahronoth

“It is an unreasonable situation, in my view, when an entity that is supported by the State of Israel enables the holding on its premises of a festival devoted entirely to preaching that the day on which Israel was founded is a day of mourning,” Livnat said in the statement. “The state cannot bear the cost of funding of an entity that encourages debate over what the Palestinians call ‘the right of return.’”

Gil Eliyahu

When Cinematheque director Alon Garbuz was asked about the film festival, according to the statement, he said the entire event was funded by Zochrot, including the printing of the program and payment for using and screening the movies. The ministry’s legal adviser, however, is taking the position that, “even if the Cinematheque has not paid for the right to show the films at the festival or for the printing of the programs, it is still bearing the cost of other expenses resulting from the festival screenings, such as the cost of use of the building, ushers, cashiers, maintenance and security,” and other expenses.

In response, Garbuz said: “The event will be held as planned. The threat of a cutoff of support does not frighten us or raise concern, particularly when the ministry’s support for the Cinematheque’s daily ongoing operations comes to less than 230,000 shekels. The balance of the [funding] is for [specific film] festivals. In addition, this is the second time the [Nakba] festival is being held. Apparently a Culture Ministry department has been established [since last year] to stop the funding, and perhaps a primary election is in the offing in the Likud party.”

Livnat is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which has scheduled a primary for January 6.

In a separate development, some 10 days ago, the Economy Ministry announced that it is demanding that Israeli Arab director Suha Arraf return 600,000 shekels in government funding for her film “Villa Touma,” after she publicized it as being a Palestinian film at venues abroad. Prior to that, the Culture Ministry took similar steps, demanding reimbursement of nearly 1.4 million shekels in funding that the ministry had provided for “Villa Touma.”