Israeli Culture Minister Seeks to Defund Cinema Institution Over Nakba Film Festival

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Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.Credit: Moti Milrod

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has ordered an investigative committee to be established to examine allegations that a film festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque violates the Nakba Law, which allows the government to defund organizations presenting Israel's establishment as a catastrophe, in line with the Palestinian narrative.

The 48mm Festival, founded by anti-occupation NGO Zochrot and scheduled for December 4-6 at the cinematheque, is also known as The Third International Film Festival on Nakba and Return. A 2011 amendment to the state budget law authorizes the finance minister to defund any institution that encourages incitement, racism or armed struggle against Israel, or presents Independence Day or the establishment of Israel as a day of mourning. The High Court rejected a petition to repeal the amendment, known as the Nakba Law, in 2012.

The advertisement for the film festival on the Cinematheque website.Credit: Screenshot

Regev stated in an official announcement on Sunday evening that the committee would be comprised of members of the Censorship Board of Israel, which will be requested to view the festival films and write reports relative to the Nakba Law for further discussion and legal consultation within the ministry.

"The minister will decide based on these opinions whether to ask the Finance Ministry to invoke the law," the ministry announced.

Regev's predecessor, Limor Livnat, tried to take action against last year's festival. She asserted the cinematheque was violating the law in hosting the festival. However, the cinemathque retained its funding despite undergoing a similar investigative process.

However, Culture Ministry officials noted that last year Livnat's request was made without first obtaining professional opinions, examining in depth the films in question or presenting findings. "Being responsible for public coffers, we must not shut our eyes when there is fear that the law is being broken," said Regev. "We must examine the matter on a professional level.

Liat Rosenberg, Zochrot's CEO, commented: "It seems to me like one of many attempts, which will happen in the next festival as well, to exclude the topic of the Nakba and the right of return from the public agenda. If it were not such a painful and difficult subject, I gather the minister's attempts would look ridiculous to me. But I believe the public will vote with its feet, and instead of silencing these attempts, I honestly invite Minister Regev and others to come watch the film and try to listen in depth to the voices arising from within them."

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