Scandar Copti, the Arab-Israeli who co-directed Oscar nominee Ajami with Jewish-Israeli Yaron Shani, said Sunday, hours before the Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood, that the film does not represent Israel because “I cannot represent a country that does not represent me.”

Speaking to Channel 2, Copti said, “I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel,” adding that the representation issue is a “technical thing, that’s how it works in the Oscars. It says ‘Israel’ because the funding comes from Israel. There’s a Palestinian director, an Israeli director, Palestinian actors and Israeli actors. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel.”

Copti’s co-director, Shani, did not agree.

“It’s an Israeli film, it represents Israel, it speaks ‘Israeli’ and deals with Israel-related problems. The question of representation deals with matters of perspective and political issues we need to resolve,” Shani, who was interviewed alongside Copti, said.

Copti and Shani were interviewed only a day after a demonstration took place in Jaffa, Ajami’s setting. Demonstrators took to the streets in protest of what they call police violence against the town’s residents.

Tony and Jiras Copti, brothers of the director, were arrested in Jaffa in February. After the arrest, they claimed police used excessive force against them.

Ajami is the third Israeli movie in three years to compete in the foreign film category of the Academy Awards. It’s the ninth Israeli film ever to be nominated. On Sunday night, Ajami competes with films from Germany, Peru, France and Argentina.

Angry reactions from top Israeli officials weren’t late in coming.

Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat said, “It is because of Israeli funding, which Copti now tries to renounce, that the film Ajami was produced and is now nominated for an Oscar.”

“Without state support, Copti would not be walking the red carpet tonight. In the name of artistic license and pluralism, the movie was given a budget of more than NIS 2 million. It is sad that a director supported by the state ignores those who helped him create and express himself. Happily, the rest of the movie’s team see themselves as part of the State of Israel and are proud to represent it in the Oscars as ambassadors of liberated cultural expression,” Livnat added.

Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Daniel Herschkowitz earlier called on Livnat to examine how “the man who directed the film with Israeli funding might wrap himself with a Hamas flag tonight. If the movie wins an Oscar, it might be a Pyrrhic victory for Israel.”

Other MKs were more angry still.

A furious National Union MK Michael Ben Ari suggested that Israel change the Cinema Law, which serves as the guidebook to fund Israeli films.

“Support for a film should not be granted unless the editors, producers, directors and actors sign a declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel, its symbols and its Jewish-democratic values,” he said.

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