Heavy-handed Censorship by Israel Film Council

Film council rules state movies can be limited to audiences 18 and over in cases involving an 'obscene film or one that offends public sensibilities'; 'Hashoter' does not include such content.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat did the right thing yesterday by asking the chairman of the Israel Film Council, Nissim Abouloff, to suspend implementation of the council's decision to limit the movie "Hashoter" ("The Policeman") to audiences 18 and over. The council, whose members are nominated by the culture minister and approved by the cabinet, gave the film the most restrictive rating without explaining its decision. And it did so in a way that raises fundamental questions about the criteria it is applying.

The film, directed by Nadav Lapid, won the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival and three awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It tells the story of a young policeman in an elite anti-terror unit; there is a separate plotline about young Tel Aviv revolutionaries who decide to fight Israel's extreme economic disparities by kidnapping wealthy businesspeople.

The film focuses on the connection between aggressive economic forces and heavy-handed tactics by the police and army, raising the specter of middle-class youth aspiring to change the government. To a great extent, the film foretells the current Israeli reality as reflected in the tent protest that got its start on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard.

According to film council rules, movies can be limited to audiences 18 and over in cases involving an "obscene film or one that offends public sensibilities." "Hashoter" does not include such content. It does not contain major violence or pornography and does not even offend public sensibilities other than those of the council members themselves.

Since the film's power derives from the context of current events, the rating stirs concerns that the council was trying to cater to its patrons and limit the film's audience to prevent younger people from adopting some of the tactics depicted in the film - tactics that don't square with the accepted public order.

Of course, it's not the film council's role to make such a link. The power of "Hashoter" stems in part from the possibility of challenging dominant political and economic perspectives and seeking to undermine them via art. The suspension of the decision on the film's rating should therefore be a first step toward repealing the rating.