Following an emergency meeting at the Culture and Sport Ministry with organizers, the Jerusalem International Film Festival has agreed not to screen the film Beyond the Fear, a documentary about Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev gave the festival organizers an ultimatum on Tuesday, telling them to remove the film from the screening roster or have their funding revoked by the ministry.
Regev explained that the movie had caused deep shock among the citizens of Israel across the political spectrum and that the ministry had received thousands of requests to remove it from the festival.
The compromise suggested by Regev was to allow for the movie to be screened at one of the pre-festival events at a private theater in Jerusalem, but she added that she will call on the public not to see the movie, regardless of when or where it is screened.
The festival released a statement saying it “stands by the artistic freedom of expression of movie makers in Israel and by the right of the audience to watch cinematic creations.”
While the topic matter is sensitive for the Israeli public, those who oppose screening the film have not yet seen it, the festival added.
“We oppose the very idea that a work of art can be condemned based on the topic it deals with,” it said.
“This is part of the job of actors and art – to observe, to investigate, to learn, to understand and to criticize social and cultural phenomenon. In contrast to the way the media has chosen to present the movie, this is a creation that seeks to unravel the character of a murderer just as many documentaries have done in the history of cinema.”
Regev also decided to freeze state funding for Haifa’s Al-Midan Arabic-language theater on Tuesday, which has been hosting the play A Parallel Time.
The play, which has been the source of controversy for months, is inspired by the life of Walid Daka, a prisoner serving a sentence for his part in the abduction, torture and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. It depicts a political prisoner preparing for his wedding in prison.
Earlier this month, Education Minister Naftali Bennett removed the play from the culture basket, saying Israeli school children should not be exposed to a play that sympathizes with a terrorist and certainly not at the expense of the state.
Regev met with the Tamam family on Tuesday, along with Dr. Haim Perluk, chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council, who said that during a visit to the theater a few days ago he was “astonished” to find “a number of things that raise questions about the sources of funding and the fact that there is money that the theater’s managers could not explain.”
Perluk also said at the meeting that, in a conversation with the theater’s manager, he was told the theater was “political.”
In a meeting with the author of A Parallel Time, Bashar Morkus, Perluk said Morkus admitted to identifying with Daka and that Daka was his inspiration.
Finally, Perluk revealed that Daka, who is still serving his prison sentence, has access to the Internet and stays in touch with people, including Morkus.
Regev said this information and additional knowledge collected about the theater by the Almagor Terror Victims Association would be passed on by the ministry to the proper authorities.
The minister accepted Perluk’s suggestion that all funding to the Al-Midan theater be stopped until a full investigation is conducted according to the law.
Dan Yakir, the legal adviser to The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sent a letter on behalf of the association to Regev on Tuesday, saying the decision to revoke funding from Al-Midan Theater and the Jerusalem International Film Festival based on the topics of the performances they host is a “serious harm to artistic freedom of expression.”
Yakir claimed in his letter that while both the play A Parallel Time and the movie Beyond the Fear deal with sensitive topic matters, they do not cross the line into incitement to violence or racism and, therefore, the ministry should not interfere.
“The culture minister is not the commissar of culture and the Culture Ministry is not the culture censor. The role of the Culture Ministry is to support culture and art, not to strangle it,” he wrote.
Yakir also spoke of the right the public has to be exposed to different types of art.
“Israeli artists feel threatened in recent weeks, with their freedom of creativity and freedom of expression under constant attack,” Yakir wrote. “While the artists are at the forefront of the matter, this is a threat on the entire Israeli democracy.”
The Joint List also responded angrily to Regev’s decision on Tuesday, saying “an attempt to punish an entity for taking a different narrative from the dominant one is a destructive, cruel and inappropriate step.”
The role of art is to put a mirror up to society and bring conflicts to the forefront, it said. It also claimed that this is not only harmful to the individual artist who wishes to act according to his conscience and beliefs, but also “to the collective right of Arabs in the country to express their historical-cultural narrative – a right that is enshrined in international art.”
“Your decision is an improper use of your position for political censorship and cultural control from ideological motives... We demand that you cancel your decision immediately, that you refrain from any future intervention in cultural and artistic creations, and that you continue to support the [Al-Midan] theater and even increase support,” the Joint List demanded.
Meanwhile, dozens of artists gathered at Jerusalem’s Tmol Shilshom coffee house Tuesday afternoon to support Regev’s decisions.
The meeting, organized by singer Yishai Lapidot, CEO of the Aspaklaria Jewish Theater Hagay Lober, and manager of the Gula Culture Club Yonatan Dubov, was attended by artists from both ends of the political spectrum.
“Many of my artist friends that wanted to show up here today avoided coming because of the fear that they would be categorized, marked, or excluded from the industry,” Lapidot said at the event.
Those who had gathered from across the political and Jewish religious spectrum, he said, came “to say one very clear thing – we are first and foremost Jews and Israelis, and only after that are we artists and creators. We will not allow, in the name of freedom of creativity and expression, harm to the good name and values of the State of Israel.”
Lapidot further accused those who speak in the name of freedom of expression of being the same ones who silence other artists.
Dubov, meanwhile, stated that “culture does not stop at the triangle between Shenkin, Nahalat Binyamin and Florentin streets in Tel Aviv... It’s a disgrace that there are many artists who told me they couldn’t come because they would be marked in the industry and lose work.”
Lober spoke about the “invisible artists” the media doesn’t show, saying they are not embarrassed “to support the state and Israeli soldiers.”
Writer and producer Miki Goldenberg, brother of the late Dudu Topaz, also spoke at the event.
“It doesn’t matter what your opinion is as an artist as long as you focus on the creation and the spirit. Instead of slamming, instead of fighting with each other, instead of empowering the divisive over the unifying, let us look for the positive creation, Israeli creation, and the common denominator that makes us unique,” he said.
President Reuven Rivlin, meanwhile, called for some calm in the midst of the public storm surrounding the freedom of culture and art.
“Art is not the property of one union or another, of Right or Left, Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, woe to us if art falls victim to the dangerous politicization on one side or the other,” Rivlin said in a meeting with representatives from the “Idan Hadash” (“A New Era”) forum, an umbrella group for organizations that promote transparency, ethics and the fight against corruption in Israel.
“Art is not a weapon, but a tool for dialogue, for communication,” he continued, “a tool that breaks down barriers and doesn’t build walls.”
He concluded by offering his residence as a place “to straighten things out and settle the dispute for the sake of Israel's culture and art.