Israeli Culture Minister Backs Off Nakba Film Festival

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The image of cows depicting Palestinian yearning for statehood may be deemed 'inciteful' by the Culture Ministry.
A scene from the film 'The Wanted 18,' which may be deemed 'inciting' by the Culture Ministry. The film is to be screened at the '48 mm' festival.Credit: Courtesy

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has decided not to ask Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to fine the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for hosting a festival of Nakba films. The 48 mm Festival, founded by the Zochrot NGO, is also known as The Third International Film Festival on Nakba and Return.

Last week, Regev ordered the establishment of an investigative committee to examine allegations that the film festival violates the Nakba Law, which allows the government to defund organizations presenting Israel’s establishment as a catastrophe, in line with the Palestinian narrative.

A press release from Regev on Tuesday said that the investigative committee found these films “have presented slanderous content but they do not reach the level of a violation of the Budget Law.” As a result, Regev has decided not to ask to fine the cinematheque. The committee was comprised of members of the Israel Film Council.

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 of Justice rejected a petition to repeal the amendment, known as the Nakba Law, in 2012.

The right to withhold funds in such a case is entrusted solely to the finance minister by law, and not the culture minister. In any case, Kahlon would have had to establish his own team to examine the question before deciding.

Regev’s predecessor, Limor Livnat, tried to take action against last year’s festival. She asserted that the cinematheque was violating the law in hosting the festival, but the cinematheque 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 and examining in-depth the films in question or presenting specific findings.

The Culture Ministry said because of the issue of whether holding the Nakba film festival was a violation of the law was not fully examined last year, and the ministry said it had received additional complaints about the films shown at the festival this year, Regev ordered the establishment of the committee to view the films and submit its professional opinion.

“This was in the framework of an internal procedure on the question whether there exists a suspicion of violating the law, which requires an inquiry from the Culture Ministry to the Finance Ministry,” read the press release.

Regev said that because of the suspicions that holding the film festival violated the Budget Law, she acted as required by law and ordered the examination of the suspicions. “We must not, as a democratic nation, close our eyes and bury our heads in the sand when such a suspicion is brought to our knowledge. I accept the recommendations of the Film Council and the professional staff of the ministry, who acted quickly and comprehensively as required from civil servants who bear responsibility for the public coffers.”

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