Culture Ministry threatens theater’s funds over Nakba event

Minister Limor Livnat accuses Tel Aviv Cinematheque of promoting view that ‘Israel’s establishment is a day of mourning’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Culture and Sport Ministry is seeking to end financial support for an art cinema house in Tel Aviv as it prepares to host a festival this weekend featuring films that portray Israel’s founding as a tragedy.

On Monday, the ministry’s legal adviser sent a request to the Finance Ministry, urging it to mull the rescinding of government funding for the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for hosting the “48 mm Film Festival: The 2nd International Film Festival on Nakba and Return.”

“Nakba” is the term used by Palestinians for the 1948 founding of Israel, which they see as a national tragedy.

The Culture Ministry said that the theater’s use of government funds to support activities that “mark Independence Day or the day of the state’s establishment as a day or mourning” constitute a violation of Israel’s Budgetary Principles Law.

“It is unacceptable to my mind that a body supported by the State of Israel allows an entire festival to take place within its walls dedicated entirely to preaching as if the day of Israel’s establishment is a day of mourning,” said Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. “It makes no sense for the state to bear the cost of funding a body supporting debate over what the Palestinians call ‘the right of return,’ which means the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish, democratic state.”

Alon Garbuz, the theater’s manager, denied funding the festival.

“All of the expenses fall on the group ‘Zochrot’ — printing the programs, paying for the rights. We are splitting profits,” he said.

Zochrot is an Israeli NGO that works to raise awareness of the Nakba in Israeli society, and believes, according to its website, that “peace will come only after the country has been decolonized, enabling all its inhabitants and refugees to live together without the threat of expulsion or denial of Return.”

The ministry claimed that the theater was still funding the festival by providing the venue, ushers, security, and absorbing the loss of potential profits from movies it chose not to screen, among other services.

But Garbuz was defiant, promising that the festival would go on even without government funding. “The support for our regular activities is so low that we don’t even feel it… It is important to understand that the main support is given to other festivals like the children’s festival, and it is a shame that they will be harmed. The money is not the problem. The problem is the attempt of the Culture Ministry to force a cultural institution to change its repertoire for all kinds of strange claims.”

Garbuz emphasized that the theater screens films expressing a range of viewpoints.

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-on attacked Livnat  for the move.

“In a civilized country, we wouldn’t have to explain to the culture minister what the job of cultural creation is, but it appears that in this case we have no choice: As long as are not talking about dangerous incitement to violence, culture is meant to challenge the narrative and stretch the limits of the debate, not to hunker down in the narrow, conservative, and boring worldview of the culture minister,” she said in a statement posted to her Facebook page.

The festival is set to run from Friday through Sunday, coinciding with the November 29, 1947, UN approval of the partition of Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

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