Opinion

We Took the Money and Ran

Artists demonstrate in front of Mifal Hapayis in Tel Aviv, June 30, 2019.
Itai Stern

Full disclosure: The writer of these lines has in the past received the Landau Prize, awarded by the national lottery, Mifal Hapayis, and was supported by the organization in the distribution of one of his films. Thus, what I say includes me – I’m not exempt from criticism in matters of the relationship between artists and agents and Mifal Hapayis.

The lottery has for years supported, sometimes with hefty sums, diverse cultural initiatives, films, TV programs, visual arts, literature, poetry, plays, various festivals and surely some others. In 2018, the support it gave amounted to 54 million shekels ($15 million), not a trivial sum. Usually, providing support depends on the considerations of a committee, comprised mainly of creative artists and people working in relevant areas. As far as I know, over the years there has been no significant intervention in the decisions of these committees or in the content of projects receiving financial support.

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Suddenly, the management of Mifal Hapayis has decided to stop supporting the Docaviv documentary film festival, after a film called “Lea Tsemel, Advocate” won the best film award, the festival’s biggest prize. The film was partly supported by the lottery. This is undoubtedly blatant intervention in artistic content. It’s uncommon to see sponsors of cultural events influencing the content of projects they support. Apparently, there is some influence, and institutions occasionally adapt to what’s expected of them, but a direct and blatant intervention, with a strong whiff of politics associated with it, is unseemly and unacceptable.

Creative artists’ unions cried out, justifiably so. They called on Mifal Hapayis to retract its decision and return to its role as an supportive sponsor that does not interfere with content. One sentence in the statement issued by the unions, of which I am a member, made me pause and give the matter more thought. They wrote: “With no equitable and professional support, with no participation of the lottery in supporting Israeli culture, what will this lottery become? A body that encourages gambling, mainly among weaker populations, doing what it wants to with the profits.”

All of a sudden, the bare truth hits you in the face, devoid of any decorum. This is an organization that promotes gambling among weaker segments of society! Hold on, are we collaborating with it only because it makes it easier for us to produce our enlightened films? Someone must have already made an incisive documentary about a family that’s impoverished due to one of its members being addicted to gambling, losing money not in secretive poker clubs, but at those colorful Mifal Hapayis booths. The lottery would support that film, just like it supports other films dealing with social and political issues, such as ones depicting the horrors of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Mifal Hapayis supports films opposing the occupation? The organization is one of the main institutional investors in the maintenance of the occupation – building in settlements, constructing sports and culture centers on land stolen from Palestinians, using diverse tricks invented by Israel’s lawbooks.

Is there any West Bank settlement that doesn’t have a Payis Center at its center? Only a few weeks ago, one was inaugurated in Beitar Illit, a joint venture with the Toto soccer lottery and the Ministry of Housing. It cost 11.5 million shekels to build. For the sake of proportion, “Lea Tsemel, Advocate” was supposed to receive 150,000 shekels from Mifal Hapayis.

This led me to wonder about my part in accepting support – is this what I want? Let them retract their support and continue playing a role in ensnaring hardscrabble people in gambling, while investing the money they make in the territories. They can thereby contribute their share in destroying the lives of Palestinians. And we’ll continue getting their support in making activist, enlightened films?

Avi Mograbi is a movie director.