The policy of Culture Minister Miri Regev often causes friction between her and the world of culture, but this week she led the country and its official institutions overseas to the realm of the absurd.
Next month the 18th annual Israeli Film Festival – a veteran and respected cultural institution – will be held in Paris. This year the festival management decided to open the event with the film “Foxtrot” by Samuel Maoz, which won the grand jury’s Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in September, and was almost nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. But instead of boasting of the achievements of the film and its creator, the Israeli Embassy will boycott the event.
Since the summer the culture minister has been waging a stubborn battle against the film, in which Israeli soldiers are seen killing the passengers of a car and covering the traces of their act. Regev decided that the film “harms the good name of the IDF,” and even “destroys the greatest celebration of the 20th century – the State of Israel.”
Although Regev has no authority over Israeli embassies, the events of recent days proved that her spirit has infiltrated deep into the country’s institutions. The Israeli ambassador in Paris tried to interfere with the artistic considerations of the management of the Israeli Film Festival and to change the program. Festival director Helen Schoumann said that the embassy’s cultural attache asked her to replace “Foxtrot” with another film “because Culture Minister Miri Regev is at war with it.”
Israel’s ambassador in Paris, Aliza Bin Noun, confirmed this and even recruited French Jews for the misguided battle: “I told the organizers that it’s insulting to part of the Jewish community,” she told Haaretz. “But the organizers refused to choose another film, so we won’t be coming to the opening.”
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Even if it participates in funding culture, the government has no business giving kashrut certificates to works it approves of, or rejecting works that criticize it. The dangerous confusion created by Regev between “culture” and “propaganda” threatens not only the continuation of high-quality Israeli work, but the country’s image as well: The headlines of the newspapers in France that are reporting on the Israeli boycott of the film festival, which is a celebration of Israeli culture, are arousing a great deal of embarrassment. In previous years, BDS supporters had come out in protest against the festival and now I think it’s very strange that this assault is coming from the Israeli government, the festival director said. No wonder that she concluded from this that “apparently this minister doesn’t like art very much.” Perhaps she should have added that the minister doesn’t like democracy very much either.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.