The Jerusalem Municipality has rejected Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s call to reconsider screening a documentary about Israel’s defense industries this week.
In a letter sent to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday, Regev suggested “The Lab” seeks to undermine the state, and expressed reservations about director Yotam Feldman’s film. She asked the mayor to “verify that public funds and state resources do not fund activity that undermines the state, its values and symbols.”
Feldman’s film is due to be shown as part of a Jerusalem Cinematheque event featuring human rights lawyer-activist Itay Mack, in which Mack will discuss “the occupied territories and the State of Israel’s military exports.” Feldman is a former Haaretz journalist.
“The aim of the evening as presented to me is to show the bad and ugly face of the State of Israel,” Regev wrote in her letter. She called Feldman “a controversial journalist for his comments harming the image of the State of Israel as an immoral country.”
She also wrote that “The Lab” compared Israeli army officers engaged in the arms trade to “exporters of death and psychopaths.”
Jerusalem City Hall said it would not prevent the screening at the Cinematheque. “The film is funded by the Culture Ministry, and the Cinematheque is also funded by the ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, according to clear professional criteria,” a spokesperson said. “The municipality does not intervene in artistic content and does not censor in instances where the content is not to our liking. The people of Israel are strong enough to allow freedom of expression.”
The documentary, which was released in 2013, won the best debut film award at that year’s Docaviv Film Festival and was shown on the Hot cable broadcaster earlier this week.
Feldman told Haaretz it was a fact that Israeli army officers have become agents of death, sarcastically adding, “One of the State of Israel’s main export branches is weaponry tried on human experimental rabbits in Gaza and the West Bank, and that’s one of the reasons Israel is such a rich country.”
The Jerusalem Cinematheque said it always acts in accordance with the law and serves as “a central pluralistic cultural institution in Jerusalem.”
Regev has had a confrontational relationship with many in the arts world since becoming culture minister in 2015. Last September, she walked out of the ceremony for the Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars), after a poem by Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish was recited on stage. The following day, she announced that a professional panel would be convened to examine decisions made by the country’s nonprofit film foundations and funds.