Regev in eye of storm over Ophir Awards walkout

‘Sand Storm’ is first Arabic language movie to win Best Picture, represent Israel for Oscar consideration.

Minister Miri Regev (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Minister Miri Regev
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On a night when the Israeli film industry gathered to celebrate the year’s best films, the biggest drama was on the stage.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev defended her decision to walk out of Thursday’s Ophir Awards ceremony in Ashdod because of a performance by Tamer Nafar at the ceremony. The Palestinian rapper and actor included an excerpt of a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in a presentation.
Regev said, just before the prize for Best Picture was awarded to Sand Storm, a drama about two Beduin women, that she had left the auditorium during Nafar’s performance because she did not approve of the lyrics by Darwish and said that no other Israeli should either.
Afterward, she spoke strongly for 20 minutes against the words and spirit of the late poet Darwish and drew scattered cheers, many boos and some walkouts. Regev also objected to a raised clenched fist salute by the artists who read Darwish’s poem.
“Where have we gotten? Why? In a state awards ceremony should a poem by a poet who called for the destruction of the State of Israel be heard?” Regev asked. “This is not a fight between Right and Left, this is the protection of the essence of our existence here.”
The minister added that she and her office had not been made aware that a poem by Darwish was to be performed at the ceremony, and also criticized the audience at the awards ceremony.
Regev added that greater “oversight is needed for recipients of state money in the Israeli film industry."
Following the incident, Regev was subjected to heavy criticism from leading figures in the arts and film industries, as well as from senior political leaders.
Zionist Union leader and head of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog, said that Regev was taking Israeli cinema “back to the days of black and white,” quipping that “it would be better if she took one step further back to the days of silent film.”
MK Yoel Hasson, also of Zionist Union, described Regev’s behavior as embarrassing.
“The Ophir Awards evening is an important evening for Israeli cinema and for Israeli artists, not for the whims of the culture minister who never heard of Darwish until Netanyahu indicated to her that he was the new enemy of the [Jewish] people,” he said. On Friday, she described the event as “a disgrace in which redlines were crossed,” and said that such incidents should not be allowed to pass without protest.
“This behavior demeaned the State of Israel, the law, Israeli culture and people of culture,” she said. “One redline that was crossed was the use of a poem by Darwish, who was the leader of the Palestinian industry of lies, who preached in his poems opposition to the existence of the Jewish state,” continued Regev.
At the event, which was held at the Performing Arts Center in Ashdod, the win for Sand Storm, made it Israel’s official choice for consideration for a nomination in the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars. This is the first time that a movie entirely in Arabic has won the Ophir Award for Best Picture.
Nafar, who recited the Darwish poem, starred in Udi Aloni’s Junction 48 and along with Itamar Ziegler, won the prize for Best Original Music and Best Soundtrack for the film. Nafar thanked the academy and called Junction 48 “a Palestinian movie.”
Actor Roy Assaf, known for his left-wing views, tried to jump on stage during Regev’s speech to express his disagreement and was hustled off, while Moshe Danon, chairman of the Israel Academy for Film, went onstage to plead with the audience to quiet down. Moshe Edery – who along with his brother, Leon, is one of the most prolific producers in the Israeli film industry (and also owns the Cinema City chain) – looked agitated while Regev spoke.
Regev said that the Israeli film industry shouldn’t be “a closed club,” and complained about the industry’s lack of “equal opportunity for everyone,” a particularly odd complaint during a year when the most ethnically and religiously diverse group of nominees and winners ever was recognized by the Israel Academy for Film.
She ended with what could be perceived as a veiled threat to the film-making community, saying that she was making up her mind about what cultural institutions to support.
The final presenter of the evening, Palestinian director Ibtisam Mara’ana, railed against Regev for several minutes before presenting the Best Picture Award to the producers and director of Sand Storm.