27 August '15..
The B'Tselem human rights organization will host a special event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Thursday, titled "Gaza: An Inside Look." According to organizers, the event will include "footage documenting fierce fighting, as seen through the eyes Gazans." B'Tselem's Facebook page notes that the footage is based on "video journals that were created by young men and women after Operation Cast Lead [in 2008-2009] and curated by B'Tselem."
Right-wing activists have appealed to the Culture and Sports Ministry to have the event canceled or moved to a venue that is not publicly funded. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev will obviously not be able to grant their request, but Cinematheque Director Alon Garbuz wasted no time criticizing her. "We will manage just fine even without the money," he said. "As I always say, 'If the state doesn't want to give us money, there are other countries that would.'"
Garbuz knows what he is talking about when he speaks of "other countries." The foreign funding he is referring to is very much on display at B'Tselem. To determine the scope of this funding, all you have to do is contact the organization's top officials.
Roy Zafrani is a veteran filmmaker. He directed the film "The Other Dreamers," which chronicles the lives of disabled children in Israel. It has won accolades from viewers, who said it was both touching and subtle. When Zafrani sought to have this film compete at the Human Rights Human Wrongs Film Festival in Oslo, organizers rejected his request.
"I'm sorry but we can't show this film. We support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel so unless the films are about the illegal occupation, or deals [sic] with the occupation or the blockade of Gaza, or otherwise about the discrimination of Palestinians, we can't show them," Ketil Magnussen, who is the founder of the festival’s parent organization, wrote him. "I'm sorry. Please let me know if you have documentary films that are dealing directly with the occupation, the you would want us to consider," Magnussen added.
Jewish reggae star Matisyahu experienced a similar ordeal when, just days before he was to perform at a music festival in Spain, he was told he had to "write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people," referring to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Organizers were heavily criticized and eventually let him perform as planned.
Should art that is critical of the state, and not just its government, receive public funds? There is definitely room for a thorough debate on this issue. But this is not the topic of this opinion piece. For the sake of this discussion, I am willing to accept the claim that this is a matter of free speech and that public funding is an integral part of artistic freedom. I am also willing to say that the state must treat all artists equally, even those who have diverging world views.
Having said that, I would like to point out that "equal" state funding for everyone leads to inequality. On the one hand, as Garbuz said -- artists who want to inflict damage on the state can easily find funding from "other countries" (I am not saying the B'Tselem film inflicts damage on the state, as I have yet to watch it). On the other hand, artists who want to create an apolitical film will not be able to make inroads on the world stage, even if their work does not praise the "occupation" or, God forbid, the State of Israel (as Roy Zafrani knows all too well).
Considering this uneven playing field, perhaps there is a case to be made for having the state go out of its way to support artists like Zafrani, and more so than others? Wouldn't equality be served if it does so?
Professor Asher Maoz is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School and a member of the Global Education Law Forum.