Film-makers tackling sensitive issues such as Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories are likely to be the first affected by proposed cuts in cultural funding.

Culture funding in Israel
Filmmakers fear censorship

In recent weeks, Israel has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets to protest against the new ultra-right government's political agenda. Filmmakers tackling sensitive issues such as Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories are likely to be first affected by proposed cuts in cultural funding. By Joseph Croitoru

Several Israeli documentary filmmakers have already been targeted by the new minister of culture and sports, Miki Zohar. Shortly after taking office, the Likud politician announced: "This morning I wrote to the new finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, asking him to retroactively cut off grants for a film that is directed against army soldiers."

At the time, however, Minister of Culture Zohar had not even seen the film documentary "Two Kids a Day" by David Wachsmann, which critically examines the detention and internment of four Palestinian minors by the Israeli army. But that did not prevent him from accusing author Wachsmann of portraying Israeli soldiers as child abusers and Palestinian terrorists as innocent victims – a claim markedly at odds with the truth.

Zohar's inspiration was apparently a small, but loud, right-wing Israeli organisation with the biblical name "BeZalmo" (In His Image), whose members had demonstrated against the screening of the film in the Israeli city of Herzliya with the slogan: "No to the terrorists, yes to the soldiers".



No more funding for critical films?

Israeli cineastes reacted vehemently to the minister's threat, yet so far it has actually done more good than harm to filmmaker Wachsmann: several cinemas in the country have contacted him and now want to show his documentary. For his part, the minister of culture has seemed less than impressed by the protests.

On Israeli radio, Zohar announced he would be pushing for new legal regulations relating to cultural funding: "I favour a law that excludes from state funding content – regardless of type – liable to harm the good name of the State of Israel." He said it was incomprehensible the state should promote content that was damaging to it.

The minister responded to his critics by saying he had no intention of interfering with artistic freedom; people could make whatever films they chose, but no funding could be expected in such problematic cases. In the eyes of the critics, however, the minister was fooling nobody: in the small country of Israel, filmmakers are dependent on state subsidies. In practice, such a law would mean censorship.

Miki Zohar has now taken aim at another documentary – H2 The Occupation Lab, by filmmaker Idit Avrahami and investigative journalist Noam Sheizaf, which scrutinises the Israeli occupation – threatening its authors with the subsequent cancellation of the subsidies they received.


Bans make films more popular

The creative duo delve into the history of the Israeli occupation of the city of Hebron, where today around 800 settlers live in zone H2, protected by numerous soldiers, in the midst of more than 200,000 Palestinians whose freedoms are severely restricted. Extensive archive material and numerous interviews with contemporary witnesses are used to support the proposition put forward by Israeli lawyer and human rights activist Michael Sefard at the outset of the film:

"Hebron is the laboratory of Israeli occupation. Everything the Israeli state does in the West Bank and even in East Jerusalem was tried out in Hebron first. Go there and you can see what is going to happen elsewhere in a couple of months to a year."

As with the film "Two Children a Day" by David Wachsmann, the minister of culture's intervention has so far had the opposite effect: even more cinema owners are interested in the film about Hebron – and not only in Israel. It will also be shown in a Berlin cinema at the beginning of March.

Joseph Croitoru 

© 2023 

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