Should the government of Israel pay for the production of movies and other pieces of “art” that portray the state in a negative light? MKs Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and Moshe Matalon (National Union) don't think so, and on Sunday, in the Knesset, they plan to introduce a correction to a law that provides funding for projects that represent Israel in international arts festivals. The law would prevent funding of movies and other works of art that are hyper-critical of Israel. Freedom to produce such works would in no way be limited, according to the law; the only change would be that Israeli taxpayers would no longer fund them.
The change in the law was prompted by comments made recently by Scandar Copti, co-director of the movie “Ajami,” which represented Israel this year at the Academy Awards presentations in Los Angeles. “Technically, the movie represents Israel. I am a citizen of Israel but do not represent it. I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," Copti said in a pre-Oscar press conference. "I am not the Israel national team,” he added.
The statement was met with indignation in Israel. Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat pointed out that it was the state that Copti refused to represent had paid his way to Hollywood. "Without the state's support, Copti wouldn't be walking the red carpet,” she said, adding that Copti was not the only person involved in making of Ajami, and that many of those who did were proud to represent Israel.
In a statement accompanying the law to be presented to the Knesset Sunday, MKs Ben-Ari and Matalon write that “the change in the law is designed to prevent a situation where a creator of a movie will receive support from the state, and at the same time denigrate it at any opportunity, or refuse to recognize the Israeli flag or national anthem at international events. While freedom of expression is protected by law, and producers are free to make as many negative statements as they want, we must realize that freedom of expression is not freedom to denigrate, and neither can it be an opportunity for 'free money.'
“There is nothing in this law to prevent the production of any movie, But the State of Israel does not have to provide generous support for movies that spit in the face of those who provide those funds, and speak negatively about the country,” the statement said. “The funding of projects at taxpayer expense to individuals and groups opposed to the existence of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state must come to an end,” it said.