The Culture Ministry is turning into the Censorship Ministry with dizzying speed. On Tuesday the situation moved from words into actions: The ministry decided to freeze the transfer of state funds to the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa, and the Jerusalem Film Festival then retracted its decision to screen the documentary “Beyond the Fear,” which is about Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir.
- Culture Ministry halts funding to Haifa's Al-Midan theater
- Jerusalem Film Fest pulls Yigal Amir film after threats to halt state funding
In order to justify her aggressive action against Al-Midan, Culture Minister Miri Regev issued a statement that is a model of ugly, unacceptable behavior by a government ministry. The statement said that the head of the ministry’s theater department, Dr. Haim Perlock, had discovered “money whose source the theater’s directors weren’t able to explain.” It also noted that the theater’s director, Adnan Tarabash, had told him the theater was “political,” and that Bashar Murkus, who wrote the drama “A Parallel Time,” identifies with Walid Daka, who was convicted of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of soldier Moshe Tamam, and considers Daka the source of his inspiration.
The true purpose of an announcement like this is to delegitimize Al-Midan. The questions about its “sources of financing” are nothing more than a crude hint at the possibility that the theater is taking money from illegitimate sources, perhaps even enemies of Israel. Or in other words, this is treason against the state. As for the claim that Al-Midan is a political theater, it’s ridiculous in the best case, and mainly demonstrates the Stalinist spirit that has taken over the Culture Ministry.
That same Stalinist spirit also reigns over Regev’s decision not to permit the film about Yigal Amir to be screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival. On Tuesday she issued an ultimatum to the festival’s organizers: If the film “Beyond the Fear” were screened, the Culture Ministry wouldn’t support the festival. Consequently, a decision was made to screen the film a few days before the festival instead.
“Beyond the Fear” was made by documentary film director Herz Frank, who immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1993 and died in 2013. It was selected for screening by the festival’s organizers as part of a documentary film competition, out of admiration both for the film and for the work of a director who was never absorbed into Israeli society. Yet despite the fact that the role of a film festival is to expose the public to important, high-quality films, not to serve as a censor on behalf of any government ministry, its directors capitulated to Regev’s economic pressure.
Regev even received a tailwind from the people dubbed “leaders of the opposition.” Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog, the man who ought to be fighting Regev’s censorship, said it was “regrettable and embarrassing that this film is getting screen time”; Hilik Bar, the secretary general of his party, explained that “a cultural production that shows empathy for the murderer of a prime minister has no place in culture”; and former president Shimon Peres said “This is a work that’s meant to legitimize and whitewash a despicable murderer.” None of them was wise enough to draw a distinction between the murder and a work of art about the murder and his family.
When these are the voices arising from the camp that is supposed to defend artistic freedom in Israel, it seems Regev can continue her campaign of destruction with no fear at all.