Head of Israeli Film Academy Fires Back, Blames Minister for Uproar Over Palestinian Poet

In response to culture ministry official, Mosh Danon says admittedly disrespectful atmosphere was due to her declaration that filmmakers' futures are in doubt.

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
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Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Ophir Awards ceremony in Ashdod, September 22, 2016.
Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Ophir Awards ceremony in Ashdod, September 22, 2016. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

The chairman of the Israel Film and Television Academy blames Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev for the mayhem that erupted during her speech at the Ophir Awards ceremony on Thursday night.

“It’s true that the response of some of those in the audience was violent, unpleasant and even very disrespectful,” Mosh Danon wrote in a letter to Culture and Sports Ministry director general Yossi Sharabi about the event, at which Israel's Oscars were presented. “But what exactly did you expect from people who on their festive day are told, unjustifiably from their perspective, that their days are numbered in the industry and, as a result, their financial and artistic futures are in doubt?”

In the course of the event, held in the coastal city of Ashdod, Jewish performer Yossi Tzaberi and Tamer Nafar, the Arab star of the Israeli film “Junction 48,” appeared on stage in a presentation that included a short excerpt from a poem by Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish. The poem is entitled, "Write it down, I am an Arab," and is also known as "ID card."

Jewish performer Yossi Zabari and Tamer Nafar, the Arab star of the Israeli film "Junction 48," raise their fist in a sign of protest during Ophir Awards. September 22, 2016.Credit: Ilan Assayag

In response, Regev left the auditorium, and when she returned to present the Best Film award, she lashed out at the industry, declaring “Israeli cinema will not be a closed club.”

In his letter, Danon took issue with Regev’s position. This year’s Ophir ceremony, he wrote, was fascinating “because of the 82 films that were excellent and showed great talent, and which reflected Israeli society’s various qualities and variety in an incredible fashion that unequivocally reflected the culture minister’s vision of pluralism and the integration of all the [country's] populations in cinema and in general cultural activity.

“Unfortunately, for reasons known only to her," Danon continued, |the culture minister apparently wasn’t paying any attention to what was going on onstage – except of course the poem [recited in part] by Nafar and Tzaberi – otherwise she could have realized in time that a significant portion of the ideas for change that she preached in her speech already exist and are flourishing in our cinema Unfortunately, Minister Regev chose in her speech on this festive occasion to tell the audience defiantly and provocatively that in essence she intends to replace them. Is that an example of patience and tolerance from someone who becomes so angry at the defiant and impolite texts of the other speakers at the ceremony?”

Danon's letter was in response to one that Sharabi sent him on Friday, in which the director general expressed displeasure that the ceremony had disintegrated into what he termed "a violent and degrading evening.”

Sharabi expressed shock that the minister and her aides had not been told that excerpts from Darwish’s work would be mentioned (“I hope and want to believe that the decision to conceal this wasn’t done deliberately as a protest”), and complained that the speakers and prize presenters “exploited the platform to attack the culture minister and her ministry’s policy.”

Sharabi added that he expected Danon to take disciplinary action against actor Roy Assaf – “the lawless and aggressive actor,” in Sharabi’s words – who burst onto the stage during Regev’s speech.

For his part Danon, in his letter, noted that the events during and following Regev’s speech were indeed “shocking and disturbing,” but rejected “with disgust” the allegation that the film academy had tried to hide information concerning Nafar and Tzaberi’s presentation. The planned appearance had been reported in the media, Danon explained. He added that at the beginning of the event, when he realized “that the minister was not aware of the whole line-up, I updated her personally with all the details” – whereupon, Danon wrote, “after a discussion, Minister Regev decided to leave as an act of quiet protest at the beginning of the poem and return when it ended.”

Danon also noted that the academy refuses to censor comments made by those announcing the award winners, adding that “they are carefully chosen for their highly professional connection to the category of the prize they are awarding. We have never told them what to say and we of course have no plans to censor their remarks

"Similarly I would assume that you do not expect the five nominees in each category (and there are 18 of them) to submit the speeches they plan to give if they win to us for vetting in advance."

As for actor Assaf, Danon wrote, “I would like to assume that he planned to spar verbally with the minister and not, heaven forefend, to attack her physically, and in any case he was rightfully removed from the stage before he got close to the minister. I agree that the atmosphere onstage during those moments was violent, dishonorable and disrespectful. At the next executive meeting we will discuss ways to prevent such outbursts and behavior in the future.”

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