Yigal Amir film will not play at Jerusalem Film Festival

Culture Minister Regev revokes funding for Al-Midan theater amidst a wide range of reactions.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (photo credit: REUTERS)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After an emergency meeting with organizers of the film festival at the Culture and Sports Ministry, the Jerusalem International Film Festival has agreed not to screen the film "Beyond the Fear," a documentary of Yigal Amir who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Regev gave the film festival organizers an ultimatum, telling them to remove the film from the film festival 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 the movie 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 Israeli public not to watch the movie, regardless of when or where it is screened.
The festival released a statement saying that they "stand by the artistic freedom of expression of movie makers in Israel and by the right of the audience to watch cinematic creations."
The statement went on to state that, while the topic matter is sensitive for the Israeli public, those who oppose screening the film have not yet seen it. "We oppose the very idea that a work of art can be condemned based on the topic it deals with," read the statement.
"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 the cinema."
Regev also made the decision to freeze state funding for the Al-Midan Arabic-language theater on Tuesday. The Haifa theater has been hosting the play "A Parallel Time," which has been the source of controversy for months.
The play is inspired by the life of Walid Daka, a political prisoner serving a sentence for his part in the abduction, torture, and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. The play depicts a political prisoner preparing for his wedding in prison.
Earlier this month, Education Minister Naftali Bennett removed the play from the culture basket, stating that 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 chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council Dr. Haim Perluk, who said that at 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 that the theater was "political."
In a meeting with the author of "A Parallel Time," Bashar Morkus, Perluk said that Morkus admitted to identifying with Daka and that Daka was his inspiration.
Finally, Perluk revealed that Daka, still serving his prison sentence, has access to the internet and stays in touch with people, including Morkus.
Regev stated that this information and additional information collected by the Almagor Terror Victims Association about the theater would be passed on by the ministry to the proper authorities.
Perluk suggested to Regev to stop all funding to the Al-Midan theater until a full investigation is conducted according to the law, a suggestion that Regev accepted.
Dan Yakir, the legal advisor to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sent a letter on behalf of the association to Regev on Tuesday, stating the decision to revoke funding from the Al-Midan Theater and the Jerusalem International Film Festival based on the topics of the performances they host causes "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, and 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," wrote Yakir, adding, "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 that "an attempt to punish an entity for taking a different narrative from the dominant one is a destructive, cruel, and inappropriate step."
The statement said the role of art is to put a mirror up to society and to bring conflicts to the forefront. It also claimed that this is not only a harm to the individual artist who wishes to act according to his conscience and his beliefs but also a harm "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 and 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," demanded the Joint List.
Meanwhile, dozens of artists gathered at the Jerusalem "Tmol Shilshom" coffee house on 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," said Lapidot at the event.
He continued to say that those who had gathered together, from across the political and Jewish religious spectrum, came "to say one very clear thing – we are first and foremost Jews and Israelis, and only after that we are artists and creators. We will not allow, in the name of freedom of creativity and expression, to harm 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 stated that "culture does not stop at the triangle between Shenkin, Nachalat Binyamin, and Florentine 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" that the media doesn't show. He said that they are not embarrassed "to support the state and Israeli soldiers."
Writer and producer Mickey Goldenberg, brother of the late Dudu Topaz, spoke at the event and said "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 Israeli creation and the common denominator that makes us unique."
Former President Shimon Peres spoke out on Monday in favor of Regev's decision to withdraw funding from the festival if they did not agree to remove the screening of the documentary film about Amir.
"On these issues there is no Right and there is no Left. There is moral and immoral," he stated in an interview with Ynet.
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin also came out in support of Regev's decision regarding the festival's screening of the Amir documentary. Nahmias-Verbin, who served as former CEO of the "Shalom Chaver" (goodbye friend) organization in commemoration of Rabin, said she welcomed the decision by the festival to remove the film from its screenings.
She called Amir a "despicable man who sought to harm Israeli democracy and therefore it is our moral duty to deprive him from enjoying [democracy's] benefits, all the more so when funded by the government."
Nahmias-Verbin added that "Culture Minister Miri Regev responded with the necessary firmness and decisiveness to prevent the disgracing of the memory of the late Rabin and the spoiling of the whole festival. I congratulate Minister Regev on her conduct."
President Reuven Rivlin weighed in on Tuesday, calling for some calm in the midst of the public storm surrounding the freedom of culture and art.
In a meeting with representatives from the "Idan Hadash" (A New Era) forum, an umbrella forum for organizations that promote transparency, ethics, and fight corruption in Israel, Rivlin said "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."
"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."