Israel’s two largest movie funders have banned recipients from identifying their work as Palestinian, the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported this week.
The Israel Film Fund and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation have taken these measures following the decision by Suha Arraf, a Palestinian director with Israeli citizenship, to register her movie Villa Touma as Palestinian at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. As Haaretz put it, “Arraf sees herself as a Palestinian artist and views Villa Touma, which deals with Palestinian characters in a Palestinian setting, as Palestinian as well.”
The movie was bankrolled by the Israel Film Fund, the economy ministry and the national lottery.
After news of Arraf’s registration of the film as Palestinian, Israel’s culture and sports ministry demanded that the Film Fund return its share of the money, while the economy ministry — headed by ultra-right-wing politician Naftali Bennett — called on Arraf to repay the funding from it directly.
In response, Arraf told The Electronic Intifada that “They want to view me as a ‘good Israeli Arab director’ or a ‘nice Israeli Arab … The moment you say Palestinian, though, you become the enemy.”
The economy ministry stated in December 2014 that Arraf would have to repay the 600,000 shekels ($150,000) which she received from it. The Israel Film Fund was told to repay 1.4 million shekels ($350,000).
“Lack of understanding”
In the wake of the Villa Touma controversy, the Rabinovich Foundation — which was not involved with Arraf’s film — has apparently added a clause to its contracts stipulating that directors must declare that: “I, the director of [name of film], view myself as an Israeli creator of an Israeli creation. I promise I will present, register and identify myself as such in every forum and in every medium in which there is a reference in any manner to the film, its creators or its producers.”
The foundation’s director general was quoted in Haaretz as saying that “I am not prepared [to be penalized 1.4 million shekels] because of some idiot whose film we supported, who then decides all of a sudden to declare that he has no nationality. Therefore we tell him up front: ‘Please declare, sir, that you are Israeli and that you will display all of the logos in your film as required.’”
The Israel Film Fund is also said to have changed the conditions which it places upon film-makers, who must now label their films as Israeli at overseas screenings.
But the new stipulations have not been greeted with universal approval by the Israeli film community. One producer, Nadav Lapid, described the rules as “nationalistic, dark” and as an illustration of the lack of “altruism, self-confidence … and understanding” in Israel.
In a separate incident, Israeli director Guy Davidi, who was nominated for an Oscar for the film Five Broken Cameras, which portrayed the struggle of the West Bank village of Bilin against Israel’s apartheid wall, has also been denied government funding.
According to a December 2014 piece on the website Mondoweiss, Davidi was denied funding for his upcoming film after he suggested that an economic boycott was a legitimate way for campaigners to challenge the Israeli occupation.