“Somebody here is just confused!” said Itzik Shmuli, the Zionist Union MK and former social-justice protest leader, after learning that the Jerusalem Film Festival would be showing a documentary film about Yigal Amir. “What’s been happening over the past week is simply cynical exploitation of freedom of expression, sinking to the level of madness and confusing good and evil,” observed the young Nietzschian.
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Not only that someone here is confused, but the entire nation had gone crazy. They don’t even know how to censor things properly here. What, for God’s sake, is the connection between freedom of expression and “Beyond the Fear,” a documentary about the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin?
“Is it prohibited to make films about bad people?” one of the film’s creators, Maria Kravchenko, joked. And when Germany funds films about Adolf Hitler that reflect his human side (that he was vegetarian, loved classical music and art, etc.) and analyze his personality, his family ties, his childhood and romantic relationships, is that also “cynical exploitation of freedom of expression?”
Sane societies seek to examine themselves and understand their pains and violence and traumas, in part through the arts. The really interesting question is how it came to be that no such film about Yigal Amir had been made thus far. How is it that Rabin’s murder in 1995, which changed the course of history in Israel, and the murderer himself, are barely of interest to those engaged in art, film and literature here?
Like Shmuli, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, former President Shimon Peres and their friends on the far right, the coalition, like the opposition, unanimously oppose showing the film. Even some representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (which, of course, supports showing the film) have expressed personal reservations about watching it themselves. There has never been such a broad Israeli consensus. The only conclusion that can be reached, as a result, is that this consensus is hiding precisely the opposite – that is, the deepest possible fissure in society.
Shmuli was 15 when Rabin was murdered. “The children of the candles” – this is how the young people who cried over the memorial candles lit in the Tel Aviv square where the murder of their leader took place were called. Twenty years have elapsed and Shmuli and his friends are no longer teens, but the flame of the candle, it turns out, has still not extinguished within them. Ever since then, the order of the day has been the same: the order of reconciliation (“Tzav Piyus”). That has meant one thing and still does: to deny the political nature of the murder and elect Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
The desire to silence the film “Beyond the Fear” and not learn about the assassin is simply to go on denying the political nature of the murder. Amir is a political murderer, a dedicated soldier who gave his life for the political ideas that he believed in and still does. He is not, as those who deny the political nature of the murder have tried to portray it, some renegade or crazy. He is an educated man, a loving father and devoted husband. Anyone who refuses to see or let others see Amir’s human side wishes to divorce him from the context in which he acted, and prefers to think that he represents only himself – that he did not act on behalf of a well-formed worldview that is subscribed to by about half of Israeli society.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who came out against the film, is a scapegoat attracting Israeli society’s pathology, but her overbearing behavior is turning her into almost a caricature of a fascist, expresses a healthy insistence on shifting the pathology right back at the doorstep of society. Thanks to her, perhaps, what has been denied will finally be brought to the surface and elaborated. It’s possible that the culture war that she opened up is actually an opportunity to prevent a civil war.
Clearly, as long as Israel does not deal with what it is seeking to deny, it will remain locked in its trauma and allow this trauma to dictate its path in life. With every round of elections, it will hark back to the election of 1996. The mouth will say “anyone but Netanyahu,” but the heart will reelect him again and again.