The Israeli cultural elite’s unearned sense of entitlement

There is a huge difference between seeking to censor, ban or prevent objectionable films, and deciding to bestow public funds upon them.

By
July 6, 2019 18:30
3 minute read.
A general view shows the urban landscape of Tel Aviv, Israel May 15, 2019

A general view shows the urban landscape of Tel Aviv, Israel May 15, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The self-appointed defenders of free speech and democracy in Israel are up in arms yet again.

This time, the subject of controversy is the recent decision by Israel’s national lottery, Mifal HaPayis, to pull its funding from the winning prize in the international DocAviv film festival held annually in Tel Aviv.

Mifal HaPayis, a national institution that receives millions of shekels in government benefits, decided to withdraw its NIS 150,000 prize following sharp public blowback over this year’s winning film, The Advocate, a documentary that glorifies the work of anti-Israel attorney Lea Tsemel.

Tsemel has gained notoriety for her staunch defense of terrorists with blood on their hands, including terrorists from Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In response to her defense of the terrorist who was photographed waving his blood-soaked hands after the lynching of two IDF soldiers in Ramallah in 2000, Tsemel infamously stated, “What lynch? As if you could really call it that.”

Given Tsemel’s record and the PR damage this film has already inflicted on Israel, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that taxpayer money should not be funding a cash prize aimed at helping to promote the film abroad.

Nonetheless, the self-appointed free-speech defenders led by the cultural elitists at the Directors Guild of Israel decried the decision by Mifal HaPayis as a “violation of free speech” and “the end of democracy.”

How is this a violation of free speech? Evidently, to them, free speech means that radical artists are entitled to receive free money from the government at the expense of the taxpayer, no questions asked.

Let’s be clear that the issue here is not the designation of the winning film at the festival. That was determined by a panel of independent judges who are free to decide as they please.

At the same time, a national institution like Mifal HaPayis is also free to decide and apply a superseding public-interest standard by declining to award a financial benefit to the chosen film.

There is a huge difference between seeking to censor, ban or prevent objectionable films, and deciding to bestow public funds upon them.

This dishonest conflation between free speech – which no one is undermining – and free government funding is the product of an elitist attitude by those who believe they are above everybody else.

This unearned sense of entitlement is a running theme with the “progressive” cultural elitists in Israel who cry free speech every time the government attempts to rightfully pull its funding from blatantly anti-Israel cultural events.

How dare anyone question the talented, intelligent and enlightened cultural elite!

While this elitist attitude is not limited to Israel, the cultural elite here have an inflated sense of entitlement that those in other countries couldn’t even fathom.

Take the United States, for example, where free speech is entrenched in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Can you imagine the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding a film that glorifies an attorney whose life’s work is defending members of al-Qaeda with American blood on their hands?

The very thought is absurd.

In fact, in response to a lawsuit filed in the late ‘90s against the NEA for declining to fund controversial films, the US Supreme Court sided with the NEA and ruled that it had the right to determine its grants based on the “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.”

Simply put: yes to free speech, no to free money.

This basic concept has unfortunately been lost on the cultural elite in Israel for some time, which was evident during a noisy protest staged this week by dozens of artists outside the offices of Mifal HaPayis.

One could only imagine the same artists taking to the streets if the situation was reversed, and the government pulled its funding of a film glorifying the attorney for mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein.

The safe bet is they would not, and would even be leading the opposition against the film.

The time has come for the cultural elitists in Israel to get off their high horses. This is not an issue of free speech, but an issue of proper allocation of taxpayer money.

Any attempt to claim otherwise is simply dishonest.

The writer is the director of external relations and development for Im Tirtzu


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