What Do You Know of Lincoln, Ms. Livnat?

The culture minister couldn't see the parallels between the Academy Award-winning story she loved and the stories behind the Israeli documentaries she shunned.

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“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” wrote Karl Marx. The letter sent by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, in response to a protest letter by four professional organizations representing Israeli filmmakers, could be described as an example of such a historical farce, were we not talking about the State of Israel’s culture minister (which makes it tragic).

After Livnat declared that she was not at all sorry that the Israeli films “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” didn’t win an Academy Award, the four professional associations wrote a fluent and restrained letter to Livnat to protest her remarks. But Livnat, Israel’s culture minister, couldn’t respond in kind and address their arguments. Instead, she felt compelled to answer the filmmakers in street language.

Livnat’s response was part of a popular reflex. This popular reflex to the Oscar nominations of these two Israeli films was a sin in and of itself. It was a response born of a logical disconnect buried deep in the collective Israeli subconscious, which suffers from the “ad hominem” syndrome. In other words, instead of grappling with an opposing argument, you attack the person making it.

In Israeli discourse, ad hominem arguments are par for the course. Any time a person be it a politician, security official, artist or journalist points out any kind of serious injustice, that person immediately becomes a traitor, a “collaborator,” an Israel-basher and self-hating Jew.

The actual argument for example, in favor of the justified struggle by the village of Bil’in against the horrors of the occupation (as seen in “5 Broken Cameras”), or against assassinations the Israel Defense Forces commits in contravention of High Court of Justice rulings (as revealed in the IDF documents leaked by Anat Kamm and Uri Blau in Haaretz) is totally ignored. On the other hand, the person making the argument in (“5 Broken Cameras,” Anat Kamm-Uri Blau) faces harsh responses, and sometimes serious punishment.

In Israel, therefore, the ad hominem has turned into a type of public neurosis, which is merely a symptom of Israeli society’s general illness: paranoia.

Israeli society really believes that everyone is bent on our destruction. This mass fear is the hallucinogen that blinds the Israeli public. Various concepts, which most of the public have never examined in depth (think the New Israel Fund), have turned into mantras or almost mystic code words for everything that is bad and wrong.

In such a situation, one would think that our elected officials would exhibit some national responsibility and battle this ignorance and paranoia. But in Israel it’s the elected officials the ones meant to be the responsible adults who are the biggest fuelers of incitement against those making a challenging argument, and the ones most likely to ignore the argument itself.

“After all,” wrote the culture minister, “Israel is a democracy to be proud of, but a democracy that is on the defensive, because lined up against "5 Broken Cameras" are thousands of families that have been destroyed by Palestinian terror. You don’t make movies about that, because you’ve lost touch with reality.”

Let’s leave aside the insult, which doesn’t suit the culture minister’s status or position, and examine the content of what she wrote. Israel is a democracy to be proud of? Maybe, if you’re extremist-right-wing-Jewish settlers. But everyone else Arabs, Haredim, African refugees, leftists live here under one of the least democratic regimes in the Western world.

And no, a democracy doesn’t get defensive about movies like “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras.” A democracy learns from films like these about what’s wrong with it and what can be fixed. It’s hard to imagine American politicians condemning the Academy Award won by “Bowling for Columbine” in 2002, even though Michael Moore’s documentary delivered a harsh and pointed critique about American violence in general, and the U.S. government (which abets violence) in particular.

In an interview on Channel 10’s business affairs show “Economic Night,” Livnat said with a grin that she was “anxious mainly because I wanted ‘Lincoln’ to win best director.” Livnat didn’t even stop for a minute to think about who Abraham Lincoln was and his role in history. Livnat, culture minister of the State of Israel, can’t see the parallels between Lincoln’s story and contemporary Israel. So who is out of touch with reality here?

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