So following the Oscar ceremony, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said she wasn’t sorry that “The Gatekeepers” “Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the Best Documentary Award.    She added that, in her view, “too many movies” made in the past few years “libel Israel throughout the world”.   Of course, as Minister of Culture, she said she was against censorship, but called on the Israeli movie makers to practice “self-censorship.”

Well, for the sake of full disclosure, Livnat and I were fellow students at Tel Aviv University in the early 70s, studying in the Sifrut Clalit (General Literature) Department.  Although I’m older than her, she was a second year student, while I, as a kibbutznik, was a first year student.   We even competed against each other to represent the department in the student council elections (at least I eventually finished my BA, which is more than one can say for our former Education Minister).   She ran on the Herut list (forerunner of today’s Likud), while I was on the Alignment (Labor-Mapam) list.

Limor Livnat

Pride in “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras”

Although we come from different camps, I would expect a serious student of literature, and a Minister of Culture, to be proud of the fact that Israeli cinema, both documentary and feature films, are having such an international impact.

In my view, every Israeli, and every individual around the world who cares about the fate of Israel should go to see both “The Gatekeepers”, directed by Dror Moreh, and “5 Broken Cameras”, co-directed by Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat   Both, extremely powerful and effective films, are an important cinematic reflection of different aspects of the Israeli reality, and of the dilemmas facing Israel today.

The Six Former Heads of the Shin Bet Security Services

Netanyahu and Intellectual Curiosity

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he has no interest in seeing either film.  Netanyahu is an intelligent man, and simply out of intellectual curiosity, I would expect him to go see both films, and to confront the facts and ideas expressed in them.   I remember that during his first term, he and his wife arranged for a special, secure showing of  Lars von Trier’s  “Breaking the Waves” at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, a much-talked about film at the time.   With today’s technology, he could simply see both films in the privacy of his home or the prime minister’s office (though I would recommend that he go see it in a public cinema and see the reaction of the audience as well).   When the six living former heads of the Shin Bet General Security Services agree to appear in a film about the challenges facing Israel today, I would think that the Prime Minister should consider it an obligation to see the film and to hear what they are saying.

Follow Begin’s Example

Netanyahu considers himself undoubtedly a follower of his Likud predecessor as PM Menachem Begin.  During the Lebanon War in the early 80s, when Israeli soldiers were dying daily in an unnecessary war, protesters held signs outside his Jerusalem home every day listing the growing number of Israeli deaths.   The police came to him and asked if he wanted to remove the “disturbance”.    He said no, because he felt it was his responsibility to face the reality that the protestors were presenting.   If Netanyahu wants to have the stature of a statesman, and not just a politician, he should follow Begin’s example, and go see the two films.

From “Lincoln” to “Leibowitz”

To go back to Livnat, she said that the only thing that interested her about the Oscar ceremony was the hope that “Lincoln” would win the Best Picture Award.   Well, if that’s the case, I suggest that she ask director Steven Spielberg what he thinks about her attitude to the Israeli documentaries.   And also Spielberg’s scriptwriting partner, in both “Lincoln” and “Munich”, Pulitzer Prize award-winning playwright Tony Kushner, co-editor of    Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (Grove, 2003).

I don’t think I’ll be spoiler for those who haven’t seen “The Gatekeepers” yet, if I quote the exchange at the end between director Dror Moreh and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.   Moreh ask Diskin what he thinks of the comment made by Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, immediately after the Six Day War, that if Israel tried to maintain its rule over another people in the newly occupied territories, “the corruption characteristic of every colonial regime will also prevail in the State of Israel.”  Diskin’s response is that, in retrospect, he agrees with every word that Prof. Leibowitz said.

While we’re at it, another excellent documentary film that I would recommend to both Netanyahu and Livnat is “Leibowitz: Faith, Country and Man”, directed by Uri Rosenwaks.

Israelis, and all who care about Israel, should be extremely proud that such films are being made today.   They reflect a hope that consciousness can be changed, horizons expanded, and hopefully that our bloody conflict with our Palestinian neighbors can be resolved.

Making Waves in the Mediterranean

The potential happy ending can be reflected by the moving scene at the close of “5 Broken Cameras”, when Palestinian protagonist, co-director Emad Burnat, take his five year old son whose progress we have followed in the five years of making the film, for the simple human joy of splashing around in the waves of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, a five minute walk from my home.