Israel's Culture Minister Weighs Cutting Funds for Hebron Documentary

The decision to investigate the funding sources for the celebrated film 'H2: Occupation Lab' was taken after a right-wing organization asked Israel's new culture minister to look into the issue

עידו דוד כהן - צרובה
Ido David Cohen
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A scene from H2: Occupation Lab
A scene from H2: Occupation LabCredit: Philippe Bellaich
עידו דוד כהן - צרובה
Ido David Cohen

Israel's Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar's office approved a proposal from a fringe, right-wing group to investigate the funding sources for an Israeli documentary about the occupation of the West Bank city of Hebron.

Zohar initiated the investigation to check if the funding for the production of the film 'H2: Occupation Lab,' which examines the power relations inside Hebron under Israeli occupation, can be retroactively pulled.

The probe into the funding sources was launched after Shay Glick, director of the right-wing organization B'tsalmo, asked the minister to look into the issue ahead of the film's screening at the Holon Cinematheque on Monday night.

"The Culture and Sports Ministry is looking into the matter with cooperation from relevant experts and the Finance Ministry. I repeat and say that works which tarnish Israel will not receive any public funding on my watch," Zohar wrote.

In an interview with Ynet published on Monday, Zohar added that he aims to establish a working protocol "requiring artists to sign a loyalty agreement that states they will not tarnish the country if they receive government funding".

'H2: Occupation Lab,' directed by Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf premiered at the 2022 DocAviv festival. Using rare archive footage and interviews with Hebron’s military commanders through the years, the documentary tells the story of a city where Israeli settlers live amongst the Palestinian population guarded by hundreds of Israeli soldiers.

The film was funded by the Hot Cable Television Company along with support from The News Fund for Cinema and Television, Mifal HaPais (Israel's national lottery) and other international organizations.

Glick also appealed to the Holon Cinematheque, to Holon’s mayor and to members of the city council. He assailed the movie, claiming that “the Holon theater was not the venue for people supporting boycotts and hatred, for draft dodgers and for anyone inimical to Israel. IDF soldiers are the best and most moral in the world,” he wrote. He also wrote that if the screening in Holon were not cancelled, there would be a demonstration there.

Similar pressure led to the cancellation of the movie’s screening in Pardes Hanna-Karkur last month. Following the cancellation, residents and artist groups got together for an alternative screening across from the local council on the designated evening, with anti-move demonstrators standing on the other side of the square.

Israel's Culture Minister Miki ZoharCredit: Dani Shem Tov / Knesset Spokesperson.

The film's directors, Avrahami and Sheizaf, said in response: “we will not yield to fake news attacks against the movie, instigated by people who have not seen it. People putting out these announcements don’t even know that the main speakers in the movie are IDF officers and military governors from the last 50 years.

"Our real fear is of their power to intimidate and threaten mayors and local council heads, as well as broadcasting bodies who will be concerned about showing and funding movies about complex political issues. You can always make movies that curry favor. The activity against movies dealing with difficult topics will not change the harsh reality, and just like with the movie ‘Two Kids a Day,’ we won’t yield or break.”

The Holon Cinematheque announced that the screening would take place as scheduled, adding that “the movie deals with a complex issue which is part of Israeli reality, presenting it in an appropriate manner while showing diverse views.”

In their response, they noted the organizations which had funded the movie and its participation in the Docaviv film festival, which is partly funded by the Ministry of Culture. They also pointed out that the movie had been screened at other cinematheques, noting that “these were public organizations which would know what is legal and what isn’t.”

The documentary forum in Israel sent a letter to Zohar, calling on him not to yield to pressure by silencing Israeli art. “We wish to express our determined opposition to an examination of the possibility of denying funds for this movie. We invite you to watch the movie and not rely on reports by extremist organizations such as B'tsalmo,” they wrote.

Just like they wrote the minister last week with regard to the movie “Two Kids a Day,” forum members added that “criticism in a democracy is legitimate and seemly. When there is no room for it, a country ceases to be a democracy.” The minister was also invited to a meeting, so they could clarify their position, emphasizing that they would join all creative artists in facing attempts to muzzle them.

Zohar’s announcement regarding the defunding of the movie came a week after he announced his intention to defund David Wachsman’s movie, “Two Kids a Day,” which deals with the detention of minors in the territories. The movie has been screened on Yes TV, and is now being screened in other locations.

Following the announcement regarding “Two Kids a Day,” and following Zohar’s statement on the day he took office (“we will deny funding for projects that advance the narrative of our enemies”), the legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, attorney Dan Yakir, wrote a letter to the Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, asking her to clarify to Zohar that his statements were illegal.

Yakir explained that a 2011 amendment to the law dealing with budgets, dubbed the “Nakba Law,” does not include the possibility of cutting the budget of a supported organization on the pretext of “harm to the good name of the state and its soldiers,” dealing rather with cases of a denial of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, or cases of incitement to racism, violence or terror.

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