Culture Minister Wages Undemocratic Assault on Nakba Film Festival

It’s easy to rally public support against artists and cultural institutions by depicting them as 'traitors' who endanger the state’s existence.

Haaretz Editorial
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The image of cows depicting Palestinian yearning for statehood may be deemed 'inciteful' by the Culture Ministry.
A scene from the film 'The Wanted 18,' which may be deemed 'inciting' by the Culture Ministry. The film is to be screened at the '48 mm' festival.Credit: Courtesy
Haaretz Editorial

Even before she entered the job, and even more so since then, Culture Minister Miri Regev has stressed that she sees herself, by virtue of the government’s very slender majority, as being in charge of what types of culture and artistic creation the Israeli public is entitled to consume, and also what types of culture Israeli artists and cultural or artistic institutions are entitled to produce. She does this by wielding the stick of withholding funding.

Even though the attorney general has made it clear, publicly and not for the first time, that the culture minister has no authority to intervene in the content of artistic creation, Regev continues to make headlines on this issue. This time, she announced the appointment of a committee that is supposed to review the content of the films screened in “48 mm – the International Film Festival on Nakba and Return” run by the Zochrot organization, which has taken place for several years now at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

The existence of this festival, which enables an Israeli audience to be exposed to the factual and emotional underpinnings of the Palestinian side, was also criticized by Regev’s predecessor at the Culture Ministry, Limor Livnat. In the public atmosphere that the government and Knesset have created – expressed, inter alia, in the so-called Nakba Law, which views any mention or discussion of the Nakba as harmful to the State of Israel – it’s easy to rally public support against artists and cultural institutions by depicting them as “traitors” who endanger the state’s existence.

The Nakba Law, which Regev cites as the grounds for her committee, grants the finance minister – not the culture minister – the right to fine a cultural institution that violates the law’s provisions, subject to the recommendations of a committee whose composition is specified in the law. Thus Regev’s decision is devoid of any practical significance. But in terms of their symbolism, her denial of the Nakba and her attempts to silence artistic expression constitute anti-democratic actions that, contrary to what Regev claims, actually attest to a lack of confidence in Israel’s fortitude.

As in previous cases (the Al-Midan Theater, the Elmina Theater, the Galgalatz radio station’s playlist), Regev is exploiting an atmosphere of fear to incite against the community of cultural creators, usually via falsified and misleading allegations that are based on misrepresentations. Whether deliberately or due to lack of understanding, she confuses making culture accessible to the entire public – an issue where equality of opportunity is very important – with having the opportunity to create and exhibit culture, a field in which originality and excellence are what matters, not patriotic or ethnic values.

Regev’s approach to “culture,” which emphasizes the state’s right or even duty to impose its artistic taste on its citizens and to censor the artistic content that it deems worthy of being supported and consumed, constitutes a fundamental perversion of both the democratic principles of which Israel boasts and the parameters by which culture is created.

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