There is plenty of room to debate whether Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s threat to cut funding of Elmina Theater in Jaffa if owner Norman Issa didn’t agree to perform in the Haifa Theater’s Boomerang production in the Jordan Valley, which is beyond the Green Line, was disproportionate.
First, is it inappropriate to show consideration for an Arab actor who says that his conscience won’t allow him to appear in a performance that’s taking place over the Green Line? Blame can also be laid with the Haifa Theater since it should have been more understanding of Issa’s situation, and the theater knew this was an issue and could have dealt with the complexities and found a solution before it reached this stage.
Another question: Should the funding be cut of a theater that does not boycott shows in Judea and Samaria, just because one of the owners refused to perform in one show? In this respect, the Elmina Theater situation is very different from Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to remove Almidan theater’s play A Parallel Time from the ministry’s repertoire of approved shows. Regev was luckily able to backtrack and cancel her threat of cutting funding, after Issa agreed to perform in the Jordan Valley.
However, even if Issa’s situation should be taken into consideration, this is not the case regarding longtime Tel Aviv Cinematheque director Alon Garbuz. In an interview with Haaretz
, Garbuz said, “I support Norman Issa and I say to him, ‘Be not afraid.’ It’s only the culture minister. I’m not surprised by her actions, only the speed by which she was able to sink her fascist claws into Israeli culture. I believe that artists should perform everywhere in the Land of Israel, but not in the occupied territories or in east Jerusalem.”
Garbuz has every right to express his opinion, though I do find his Pavlovian need to use the word “fascism” regrettable. For one thing, what words will he choose to use when describing far more egregious events? It is interesting to note that he used the charged term “Land of Israel,” which undoubtedly includes the Jordan Valley and east Jerusalem. However, I find the latter part of his statement quite problematic. Garbuz continues, “Even on the trip I’m organizing for my Cinematheque, I made sure that we would not be going anywhere over the Green Line exactly for these reasons. For 48 years now we’ve been carrying out war crimes in the name of this occupation and I see no reason why artists and people of conscience need to be a part of this. We should all refuse to appear in the territories.”
But does Garbuz really “own” the Cinematheque as he wrote, or maybe he meant “lead,” (which is a similar sounding word in Hebrew – you just need to add the letter Alef)? Does he have the right to dictate the (some would say extremist) political line of the institution that he happens to be managing? One would hope that Garbuz was not hired for (or at least not only for) his political opinions, but for his artistic and managerial skills, too. He is abusing his position as director to promote his personal political sentiments. It is very different for Garbuz as director of a public institution to express his private political opinions, than for another artist (Yair Garbuz, Alon's brother) to deride mezuza-kissing Jews as fools.
This is not the first time Garbuz is abusing his position to dictate his views, and to act as if the Cinematheque were his private domain.
In 2002, he decided to screen Mohammad Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin. He ignored the pain of the bereaved parents who lost sons in the battles that year in order to minimize the pain felt by Palestinian citizens. To circumvent the prohibition to screen the film commercially, Garbuz decided not to charge any entrance fee to people coming to see it.
Garbuz was not content, though, with just screening a film the Supreme Court said portrayed malicious rumors as if they were the documentation of actual events, and that “at least some of the parts of the film are patently false.” Garbuz called Jenin, Jenin “a movie about hope. Of course, we certainly had no intention of hurting anyone.”
He even called it a “film about longing for peace.” He expressed understanding – if not full agreement – with the motives of “a people fighting for its freedom after reaching a stage of desperation following more than 35 years of humiliation and trying to achieve independence in any way possible.”
Garbuz described the director as an amazing filmmaker and actor.
He defiantly stated, “We will continue screening the film Jenin, Jenin, at every possible opportunity, and I hope that many people will come see it as a gesture of support for the director and the film.”
We can see just how much this film was about “yearning for peace” from Bakri’s response to a question put to him after the premiere.
To the viewer who asked, “How is it we didn’t see even one martyr or explosives laboratory? The film was pretty one-sided.” Bakri replied icily, “I don’t work for the Israel Broadcasting Authority.”
This was not the only time Garbuz expressed his political and artistic leanings. Soon after the screening of Jenin, Jenin, the Cinematheque, held the Docaviv film festival. One of the films shown was The Lovers of San Fernando, by Swedish director Peter Torbiörnsson. But Torbiörnsson would only agree to have his film shown at the festival if the director agreed to read a statement condemning the prime minister and IDF military activity in the territories before each screening.
The festival directors agreed to Torbiörnsson’s demand. In response to viewers who protested giving in to the whims of the filmmaker, the festival director said, “Whoever doesn’t agree with his views did not need to come see the film. The filmmaker has a right to show his films.”
Numerous similar events have taken place over the years.
The difference between Miri Regev and Alon Garbuz is clear. Regev is a political figure who was elected by the public on the basis of the political platform she is committed to implementing. Of course, that does not mean that we can’t criticize her decisions and try to persuade her to retract them, as has been the case with the Elmina Theater. Garbuz, on the other hand, who is a civil servant, does not have the right to use his position and public funding to further his private political platform.
He has been derelict in his duty and responsibilities as director of the Cinematheque.
In an interview a few months ago, Garbuz announced his intention to resign from the Cinematheque in September. He took advantage of that occasion to declare, “I promise that before I leave, there will be another scandal at the Cinematheque.”
I wonder if this was the scandal he was referring to or if more excitement awaits us.
And one more intriguing question: What does Garbuz think about Issa’s statement that “his theater will perform anywhere it’s invited” and the statement by Issa’s wife, Gideona Raz, the Elmina Theater director, backing him up: “The theater will go anywhere it’s invited in an effort to reach rapprochement with and show acceptance of others.”
The author is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School in Rehovot.Translated by Hannah Hochner.