Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Why Is There Still Censorship of Films in Israel?

Livnat on why she asked the Israel Film Council's censorship board to hold off on a decision to restrict the film "Hashoter" ("The Policeman") to viewers 18 and above.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has asked the Israel Film Council's censorship board to hold off on a decision to restrict the film "Hashoter" ("The Policeman" ) to viewers 18 and above. Nadav Lapid's award-winning film describes a social revolution using aggressive methods.

How it did happen, did you see a report about the restriction in the paper?

Limor Livnat - Olivier Fitoussi - August 24 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

Yes, I opened Haaretz Sunday morning and saw the report, and I was very surprised because I knew little about it, and I was surprised to hear that it was restricted to viewers 18 and above. I still haven't seen the film, but I've read about it and it has won international awards.

I immediately contacted the chairman of the Israel Film Council, attorney Nissim Abouloff, and asked him what was going on here. He also has not seen the film, and he promised me he would look into the matter. He checked and told me that the decision had been made by a subcommittee of three council members .... But I asked him to hold off on this decision and convene the council's plenum to reconsider the decision in a broader forum.

He also told me that after he was told what the issues were, the decision seemed mistaken to him. This refers specifically to this film. It really does seem very strange to me, but as a whole regarding the film censorship council, the truth is I've been talking about this for a while now. There have been discussions on the matter, and by coincidence a meeting is scheduled for next week with me to make some decisions, because I feel that currently there is no place for the film censorship council.

The matter of limits on viewing is also something that must be reassessed. Is there room for the existence of a council that meets and decides what is and is not restricted? I see in this something very archaic and patronizing for the public, and I very much doubt there's a reason to maintain it. That's why we will certainly amend the law - it's possible we'll eliminate it entirely. But if not, we'll certainly revise it in a way that leaves some room for judgment, if at all.

Still, how would you interpret what prompted this strange decision?

I don't know how to answer that. Look, the council is very, very old. Its members were appointed many years ago, I don't even want to say how long ago, it's unpleasant. Incidentally, in the past it was part of the Interior Ministry and only recently was it transferred to the Culture Ministry. The truth is that "Jenin, Jenin" is the only film they banned over many long years, and it really is a very problematic film.

But in general I'm against banning; I think there is no reason for such a council. The only question is, is there any reason at all for the council to exist for rating purposes in order to prevent children and young people from watching films that contain, say, extreme violence, very harsh sex scenes or assorted other horrors? That's a question we'll ask, but certainly there is no need for the council to rate films from abroad.

As far as Israeli films are concerned, the truth is I thought until now that perhaps there was room for it, but after the recent incident with the film "Hashoter" I'm no longer sure. Moreover, there's the question of whether a given film really is worth seeing or not - other films I've seen contain just as much violence, sex, the demeaning of women and things that were hard for me to watch. And they were not restricted. Entire families went to see them throughout the summer.

Are you referring to a certain film produced by a certain television franchisee?

I'm not getting into names of films, and as I've said, I'm not in favor of deciding for anyone else.

Back in March you said in the Knesset that you wanted to get rid of the council. What's happened in the six months since? Why is there still censorship of films in Israel?

I was just too busy to get around to it, and really, it's not because of what happened that we're having a meeting that had been scheduled several weeks ago. It's true that I promised and that I did not implement it fast enough, but I will do it.

In an editorial, Haaretz implied that perhaps the council members restricted the film because they thought they were expected to restrict a film that depicts social protest using slightly harsher methods than those being used at the moment.

I very much hope they did not think that, but if they did, they made a big mistake.

What do you think about the protest for social justice?

First of all, it's genuine and it's undoubtedly deep-rooted and affects many people in the country because it touches on things that are close to everyone. So it penetrates deep and so many people relate to it.

On the other hand, there is alienation between people who wake up in the morning to their daily travails ... and the group of people who have monopolies and cartels. And there's a logjam at the top that doesn't make it possible to have real competition here.

The government has to get involved in this. I - someone who usually doesn't like government involvement in the free market - think that in this case, where there is a failure, it has to be done. I have a lot of respect for the middle class, I'm there too - I also pay a mortgage for my sole residence and I also go to the supermarket once a week. But below the middle class, there are people who are not even in that place and they don't really relate. This protest is not something that touches them.

It's clear to you that when you say you shop once a week you're practically the only one in the cabinet who does so because you're a woman. Hasn't the time come to pass a law mandating equal representation?

In the supermarkets and when it comes to shopping?.

The truth is, it's needed there too, but the reference was to equal representation in the Knesset and in the government. This protest proves once again that the absence of women in government is harmful to the normal functioning of society.

You know that in this regard we think exactly the same way.

So maybe your party should institute a regulation to have a one-to-one ratio.

There is no chance of passing such a law because the men would never give up their places ....

This protest is spearheaded by women, and its tone is set by women. What if you go to Prime Minister Netanyahu and explain this to him? I think it's unfair to direct it at the prime minister; leaders of small and large parties are unwilling to establish parity and are unwilling to secure places for women ....

I disagree with you that this has to be dumped on the prime minister's shoulders.