Arab Nominees for Israeli Film Awards Accuse Local Academy of Censorship

Academy chair denies charge, which involves canceled performance of poem by Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian national poet.

Actress Salwa Sakkara, actor Tamer Nafar, director and producer Udi Aloni and actress Samar Qupty pose at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival, Berlin, Germany, February 13, 2016.
Axel Schmidt, AP

Four Palestinian citizens of Israel nominated for the country’s top film award are accusing the Israel Academy of Film and Television of censorship.

In a letter sent to all academy members on Monday, the four accused the academy of barring a performance by Tamer Nafar and Yossi Tzabari from tomorrow’s Ophir Awards ceremony because it was slated to include a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, regarded as the Palestinian national poet.

However, in a letter of response, academy chairman Mosh Danon denied the censorship charge. He said organizers of the ceremony only asked Nafar to show them the performance in advance “so we could suit it to the general tone of the ceremony from a musical and staging standpoint.” When that didn’t happen, they “decided, with great regret, to dispense” with the performance, including Darwish’s poem.

Nafar, one of the signatories, was nominated for both best actor and best score for the film “Junction 48.” Lamis Ammar and Ruba Blal were both nominated for their performances in “Sand Storm.” Salim Sh’hade was nominated for production design for “Junction 48.”

None of the four plan to boycott the ceremony.

Letter assails 'self-righteous people'

In their letter, they accused the academy, “whose members are all Jews,” of censoring both Darwish and Nafar. Two months ago, they wrote, when Culture Minister Miri Regev spoke in favor of censoring Darwish, “All the self-righteous Israelis jumped on her” for undermining freedom of artistic expression. But now, those same “self-righteous people” are censoring Nafar’s performance just because it includes Darwish’s poem ‘Write down, I am an Arab,’” they charged.

Udi Aloni, who directed “Junction 48,” said that last Thursday the film academy’s chairman, Mosh Danon, told him, “I think putting Darwish on the stage would be provoking Regev. I don’t want them to cut off our funding.”

Mosh Danon.
Eyal Toueg

Nafar said that when the academy first asked him to perform at the ceremony, he agreed only after it promised not to interfere in the content of his performance. But Sunday morning, he said, the ceremony’s organizing committee suddenly sent him an email saying he couldn’t include a poem that wasn’t in the film, and demanding that he present his planned performance to them for approval that same day. When he said that wasn’t doable, they told him that in that case, he wouldn’t be able to give it tomorrow night.

Danon said the committee originally asked Nafar to perform a song from “Junction 48.” Nafar then asked to include Tzabari’s rendition of “Write down, I am an Arab” in his performance.

“All we asked in exchange was to see and hear the poem and the performance on the stage so we could suit it to the general tone of the ceremony from a musical and staging standpoint,” Danon said. “They promised to show us on a certain day, but in the end, they said they couldn’t meet the timetable, so we’d see it on stage. We, as the people responsible for the ceremony, can’t afford this, so we decided, with great regret, to dispense with it.”

In a letter sent to academy members on Monday, Danon also responded to the accusation that all the members are Jews by saying no Israeli Arab had ever applied for membership and urging them to do so. Nafar countered that given the academy’s behavior, “How would we feel comfortable there?”