Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev doubled down Friday on her decision to walk out of a prestigious Israeli awards ceremony the night before, saying the reading of a poem by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish that led to her exit was “disgraceful” and crossed a “red line.”
Speaking at a press conference she convened, Regev on Friday called Darwish, regarded as the Palestinian national poet, the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies,” adding that “in his poems he preaches objections to the existence of a Jewish state.”
Regev got up and left the hall when the Darwish poem was recited at the ceremony for the Ophir Awards, which are handed out by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television and are known as the “Israeli Oscars.” She later returned and addressed the audience, but was booed and several people walked out during her comments.
The minister also criticized those who had objected to her protest, accusing the audience of actors and cinema professionals of being hypocrites and closed-minded to any opinion but their own.
“What have we sunk to?” Regev asked. “In an official award-giving ceremony, to hear a poem by a poet who calls for the destruction of the State of Israel? This is not about left and right, this is about preserving our very existence here.”
Among those who slammed the minister was renowned Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who questioned Regev’s very presence at the ceremony.
“I don’t understand why in Israel 2016, commissars, chairmen, people in power, mayors and the rest can give speeches at ceremonies and cultural conventions,” Ashkenazi wrote Friday on his Facebook page. “Why is there no one responsible for the speeches by officials… especially to ensure that not one political word is uttered? Yesterday’s farce was a disgrace to us all.”
Regev said she and her staff had not been informed of the use of the poem, which caught her by surprise. “I heard by chance, behind the curtain backstage. I asked the head of the [Israeli film] academy if it were true, and once I understood it was an attempt to create provocation with a national poet — talented though he may be — who opposes the existence of a Jewish state, it was clear to me that I would not be present at a ceremony in which his poems were read.”
The minister herself came under criticism Friday, after she said that Arab Israeli actors who stood up and raised one hand in protest as Darwish’s poem was read were making “a Nazi salute.”
Joint (Arab) List leader Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh wrote on Facebook that Regev “abused the memory of the Holocaust” by making the comparison.
“In the face of ignorance and racism from the minister of culture there rises a new generation of Palestinian artists and creators who are citizens of the state and choose art as the instrument of struggle,” Odeh wrote on Facebook.
He later took to Twitter to add: “There is no limit how low and ugly Miri Regev will go and how the abuse of the memory of the Holocaust is just one more media tactic for her.”
The ceremony was not without other controversy. In a separate incident, an actress who refers to herself Palestinian declined to go onstage to receive an award for “Sandstorm,” a film about Bedouins in Israel that has been chosen to represent Israel in the upcoming Academy Awards. Regev also criticized this decision Friday.
“I know it is a film that speaks of social issues and questions faced by the Bedouin community,” Regev said, saying that she had not yet had chance to see it. “I am happy about that, but I was very irritated that one of the actresses in the film did not want to go onstage because she self-identifies as a Palestinian. Whoever self-identifies as a Palestinian — they can move and live elsewhere. I know that all citizens of this state are citizens of Israel. And if actors receiving prizes from the State of Israel define themselves as Palestinians, it is a very serious problem.”
Regev also said that she would establish a committee to examine the management of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television as well as funding for films, and would present a report to the ministry within three months.