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Cinema Politics: Israel Passes Controversial ‘Film Law’

The law grants the Ministry of Culture discretion over how much state funding Israeli films can receive

The Israeli parliament passed on Monday a bill put forth by Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev that seeks to structure how Israeli films will be selected for government funding.

The bill, known as the “Film Law,” passed through three readings in parliament—with the voting tallies of 44 in favor and 32 against—and became law.

Remarking on the bill’s passage, Regev said that “some opt to spread hysteria while some make history,” adding that Israel’s film industry will cease to be “another exclusive club” and will now be open to “the entire Israeli public” for a larger variety of cinematic productions.

“The time has come to bring new voices into the closed forum. We will enable [the creation of] Zionist, Jewish, Arab and Haredi films. These are new things that did not exist before,” the culture minister said.

As to law’s particulars, it will grant her ministry authority to decide how much funding each selected film will receive, although the range of funding is on the smaller end—not less than 15% of the total production budget and no more than 20%. However, Regev did manage to secure an increase in the overall state budget for Israeli films by 20 million shekels.

With regard to how films are selected to receive funding, a committee of “lectors” or script readers still retains the privilege of nominating films for government funding. The Ministry of Culture then decides which films from the lectors’ list of recommendations merit funding.

Given the high costs of producing films in Israel, many Israeli filmmakers depend heavily on government funds.

Regev has a history of lambasting films that she has deemed “subversive” or excessively critical of Israel. For example, earlier this year, she slammed Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot for the film’s seemingly critical depictions of the Israeli army.

The film made the shortlist of 9 films to be nominated for an Oscar, but did not reach the ballot for the  coveted prize. Remarking on the result, Regev said: “I think the decision saved us from bitter disappointment and prevented an untruthful worldwide representation of the Israeli army.

“A film which shows Israeli army soldiers in a deceptive manner as murderers and harms the good name of the Israel Defense Forces is not fit to represent Israel,” she added. Curiously, Regev admitted that she did not actually see the film.

The Ministry of Culture did not respond to The Media Line’s repeated requests for a comment on the law.

Israeli parliamentarian Yossi Yona (Zionist Union) who opposed the law told The Media Line that in principle he welcomes “any initiative by the parliament or otherwise that is committed to advancing multiculturalism.” For promoting multiculturalism, he added, was Regev’s stated rationale behind the law.

“But knowing the minister of culture’s resume, of course observations are in order. I do believe that our minister of culture is lacking the best knowledge as to what it means to fill that role,” Yona said.

“The minister of culture is supposed to be the one who is enabling or pushing to the extreme, as much as possible, freedom of expression. But what we have instead is a minister who believes that her function is to assume the role of a censor in the field of culture.”

Yona cited the so-called “Loyalty in Culture” bill that Regev has been trying to get through the Israeli parliament. If made law, it would deny state funds to artists and cultural institutions that denigrate Israel’s values and symbols.

“I am frightened by her activities, which seem—intentionally or not—to be aimed at eroding Israel’s democratic character,” Yona said, adding that when it comes to freedom of expression, “it doesn’t mean that we have to like everything being said—every play, movie, book, or poem. But it means that we have to allow and accommodate these expressions, whether we like them or not.

“It seems that what the minister of culture wants to do is bring about some kind of harmony between what she likes and what is publicly allowed. This is not the role of the minister of culture.”

Yona concluded that previous legislative proposals would have allowed Regev control over the committee of lectors. “But we were able to lessen the minister of culture’s control in these matters.”

Shai Shamai Glick, a right-wing activist who is supportive of Regev’s proposals, told The Media Line that the so-called “Film Law” is a “good thing as most Israelis support Regev, if we are speaking about people, who are 95% in support of her on one side, while the artists are on the other.”

He argued that Israelis pay—via taxes—for the government funds going to art initiatives. Therefore, these funds should represent Israel’s different sectors, and should not be allocated based on the desires of Tel Aviv’s left-leaning cultural elite.

“Before Regev came along, only 1% of government funds went to Arab and Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] films. Now, she is allocating 7% of funds for Arab culture in Israel, an improvement in a short time. This is one of the most important elements in the recently passed law; it says that Arabs, Haredi, and people from the settlements, from the North and South, can also receive money for cultural endeavors,” Glick said.

“Being critical of the Israeli government and the State of Israel are two different things. You can criticize the government, and everyone is critical of the government, but there are those, like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) supporters, who think they can take money from the government and the country, and then kick the country or incite against it, Glick concluded.

“If you want to support BDS, you can support it. We have freedom of speech. But I don’t want to pay someone who is against me.”