Ma’alot Tarshiha mayor cancels screening of controversial documentary

Regev applauded the removal of the film from the festival program, stating, "There is no room to screen subversive films in publicly supported institutions"

Miri Regev talks about cultural loyalty bill at press conference. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Miri Regev talks about cultural loyalty bill at press conference.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Advocate, a documentary about defense lawyer Lea Tsemel, continues to cause controversy as the mayor of Ma’alot Tarshiha canceled a screening of the film that was set to be held at the Docaviv Galilee Festival on Saturday night.
The mayor, Arkady Pomeranets, made the decision to cancel the screening of the film, known as Lea Tsemel, A Lawyer in Hebrew, in response to a request from Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
The reason for Regev’s disapproval of the film is that it is a sympathetic portrait of Tsemel, who has defended Palestinian terrorists. In June, Mifal Hapais decided to stop funding the Docaviv Prize after bereaved families of terror victims protested when the award was given to Advocate in May. The main Docaviv festival is held in Tel Aviv in the spring, while the Docaviv Galilee event takes place in Ma’alot Tarshiha in November.
Explaining the decision to cancel the screening, Pomeranets wrote in a statement that the Ma’alot Tarshiha Municipality was not involved in selecting the film and that it was important to maintain a delicate balance between different factions among the population and that showing the film could shift this balance negatively.
Regev applauded the removal of the film from the festival program and said there is “no room to screen subversive films in publicly supported institutions.”
“I congratulate the mayor of Ma’alot Tarshiha, who answered my request and the public’s voice and decided to cancel the screening of the film,” Regev said in a statement. “I urge other mayors to show sensitivity and public commitment and to be involved in the steering committees of festivals and cultural events, which take place in municipal facilities and in urban public spaces for which they are responsible. The mayors are responsible for everything going on at the public level in their cities. This is another victory in a long fight against terrorists and Ma’alot Tarshiha is another positive sign in the right direction.”
The management of Docaviv released a statement saying it would screen the film at Kibbutz Kabri on Saturday at 3 p.m. and that it would make the film available on its website for 24 hours starting on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“DocAviv Galilee protests by the arbitrary and unilateral decision on the part of the mayor to intervene and censor the film that won first place at DocAviv in Tel Aviv,” the statement said. “The decision to screen the film in an alternative venue stems from a responsibility that the festival has to our loyal audience, filmmakers and documentary filmmaking. Festival management will not cooperate in any way with censorship and silencing of cultural and artistic works that is aimed at harming discourse that reflects the reality of Israel in all its forms.”
Earlier in the day, the Docaviv management said, “We regret the upsetting feelings that arise among certain sectors of society around the theme of the movie Lea Tsemel, A Lawyer, and our hearts go out to the bereaved families,” but went on to say they hoped that the mayor would change his mind about screening the film.
The film, by Philippe Bellaiche and Rachel Leah Jones, has won prizes at festivals around the world and received funding from the Israeli Film Council, which is run by the Culture and Sport Ministry.
A number of politicians commented on the decision via Twitter.
“Miri Regev continues to operate contrary to the law,” Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List tweeted. “The serious problem is that mayors who speak highly of Arab-Jewish relations cooperate with Regev’s persecution and restrict freedom of expression. Lea Tsemel is a leading human rights activist. Ma’alot Tarshiha should proudly present the film about her.”
MKs Ofer Cassif and Heba Yazbak, also of the Joint List, voiced similar criticisms on Twitter.
Rinat Klein, director of the documentary channel HOT 8, released a statement saying that in response to the cancellation, HOT 8 would broadcast the film this weekend in a special showing.