Editorial

Encouraging Servility in Israel

A still from the documentary 'Attorney'
Philippe Bellaiche

The Mifal Hapayis lottery directors’ decision to stop funding the grant given the winner of the Docaviv documentary film festival, starting next year, and to reexamine the possibility of canceling the grant already promised to this year’s winner, the makers of the film “Advocate,” about Leah Tsemel, is another expression of the continuing erosion of Israeli democracy.

The Mifal Hapayis decision comes in response to a public outcry led by right-wing activists, the Yahad organization, and the bereaved families’ group called “Choosing Life,” who have called on everyone to cancel their subscriptions to the lottery. The protesters have opposed awarding the grant to the film’s creators because of its focus on an Israeli attorney who represents Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are charged with involvement in terrorist operations. Culture Minister Miri Regev has also assailed the movie, without even seeing it, and has demanded the prize be canceled.

Mifal Hapayis has succumbed to the political pressure, although the movie had been selected by the festival’s own professional committee, which decides the winning films each year. The prize comes to 150,000 shekels ($42,000), a significant sum compared to the small budgets Israel provides for cinematic creativity, and it is supposed to be spent toward helping the film compete for an Oscar.

The Mifal Hapayis decision is a combined assault on documentaries – most of which are not entertainment and provide a more complex experience for viewers, exposing them to a sometimes difficult reality, that raises questions. The decision signals to citizens that from Mifal Hapayis’s standpoint, they ought not to be exposed to creations that may challenge their views, or cast doubt on their understanding of reality, and should suffice with art that reflects the political direction as dictated by the government. Mifal Hapayis has labeled an entire realm of Israeli culture as dangerous and disgusting, and has simply imposed a boycott on the Israeli documentary industry.

Paradoxically, the movie that will be least harmed by this decision is the film about Tsemel, which has already won many awards abroad, and the attacks against it will mark it and its creators from here on out as victims of persecution by authorities seeking to silence freedom of expression. The ones that will be most harmed by this scandalous decision by the national gambling body are the movies that won’t be shown at Docaviv or other festivals for fear of the consequences from screening the wrong movie, along with the films that will never be produced due to the self-censorship that will be adopted by creators and those who fund them.

Opponents of the cultural boycott, cultural institutions and, primarily, Israeli consumers, fans of music, theater, film and dance must counter this blatant attack on Israeli creativity.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.