My advice to Knesset Culture Minister MK Miri Regev
My advice to Knesset Culture Minister MK Miri Regev

When was the last time you saw an Israeli feature film about a group of idealistic and spirited “Hillside Youth” setting up a new outpost on a windswept mountain in the Shomron (Samaria), rebuilding their makeshift homes again and again after Arabs and Israeli soldiers tear them down? When was the last time you saw an Israeli feature film about a happy and wholesome religious family of olim from America, optimistically coping with their new life in Hevron? I am willing to bet you never have seen movies like these, because they don’t exist.

When was the last time you saw an action-packed Israeli war movie based on the heroes of the Israel Air Force in the Six Day War? Or when was the last time you saw an Israeli feature film based on the suspense-filled actions of the Etzel or Lechi underground movements in the battle for Israeli independence?  Or a feature film about Rabbi Aryeh Levine or Rabbi Kook? I am willing to bet you never have seen movies like these, because they don’t exist.

When was the last time you saw an Israeli feature film based on the Jonathan Pollard story, or on Yosef Mendelevich’s struggle to keep the commandments of the Torah in Soviet prisons? I am willing to bet you never have seen movies like these, because they don’t exist.

When was the last time you saw an Israeli feature film about the struggle of the Macabbees to liberate the Temple from the Greeks and the Hellenists, or about Mordechai’s conflict with the assimilationists in Shushan, Persia or a film about Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochva’s rebellion against the Romans? I bet you never have seen movies like these, because they, too, don’t exist.

Yet the Israel Film Fund, with monies from the government of Israel, has spent hundreds of millions of shekels in the last 18 years to produce some 230 Israeli feature films. Where has all the money gone?

By and large, it has gone to make movies with a very definite political agenda – pacifist, anti-war movies like the leftist films “Lebanon,” “Waltz with Bashir,” and “Beaufort,” which paint Israel’s part in the wars against its enemies in a negative light. Or films about oppressed Palestinians; and tragic love stories between Arabs and Jews; or films like “The Get” which portrays religious Jews as total idiots, or the “Campfire” which portrays settlers in a shallow and grotesque manner; and dozens of empty films about secular Israel life, like “The Kindergarten Teacher” which features frontal nudity, to proudly show the world that Israeli cinema can be even more “enlightened” than the worst European films.

These are the films which, according to the Israel Film Fund, “define Israel’s culture in the eyes of the world.”

In an interview in the American movie newspaper, Variety, Katriel Schory, executive director of the Israel Film Fund for the last 18 years, maintains that “We don’t have agendas, we don’t any raise flags.” He insists that “The most important mission that we have is to safeguard the creative freedom of Israeli filmmakers.”

What about the creative freedom of filmmakers on the right of the political map, filmmakers whose hearts still beat proudly to the music and words of Zionist songs, and filmmakers who aren’t ashamed or afraid to make their homes in Yehuda and Samaria? Why don’t we see their movies up on the big screen? Because the Israel Film Fund maintains that their scripts don’t meet “the required professional standards,” and without the support of the government funding for Israeli films, which is funneled to filmmakers through the Israel Film Fund, no one has the money to produce movies, which can cost a million dollars or more.   

When asked if the Israel Film Fund refuses to support the production of films which have messages which don’t jibe with the agenda of the leftwing in Israel, he says, that “No political discrimination exists in the Film Fund and all such claims are total nonsense.”

The website of the Israel Film Fund sounds very cultured and democratic. But in practice, it’s just the opposite. If you are looking to see a patriotic, Zionist movie, made in Israel, filled with optimism and Jewish pride – forget about it. And, if you are an Israeli filmmaker looking for money to produce a movie based on a script with a rightest message, you are better off looking for another profession.

The Israel Film Fund is a non-government organization which receives its financing from the Government of Israel. It operates under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Sport. The Culture Minister is in charge of appointing a Public Film Commission which is empowered to make sure that the allocated government funds are used in accordance with Israel’s “Cinema Law,” which the Knesset passed in 1999.  The Film Commission has the task of making sure that freedom of expression is given to all segments of Israeli society and that funding is given for the production of feature films to the wide gamut of diverse worldviews in the country.

Let’s take the religious-Zionist community in Israel. For the sake of easy arithmetic, let’s say that this community is represented by 12 seats in the Knesset. Since there are 120 seats in the Knesset, that means the religious-Zionist community should get at least 10% of the monies allocated to the Israel Film Fund for the production of feature films. Tell me -when was the last time you saw a religious-Zionist movie? Additionally, the rightwing in Israel makes up at least 60% of the Knesset, and therefore should be allocated 60% of the funds allocated for films. When was the last time you saw a  movie with a rightist message that was made in Israel and funded by the Israel Film Fund? What about the Menachem Golan’s patriotic film, “Operation Thunderbolt,” you ask, it was based on “Operation Entebbe?” That was made in 1977, before the Israel Film Fund was formed.

During the 18 year directorship of Mr. Schory, the Israel Film Fund has been run by a board whose members are, not surprisingly, on the left of Israel’s political spectrum. This board decides what projects and scripts receive funding. In order to review the approximately 250 scripts submitted annually, the board appoints readers called “kolecterim,” people with some experience in filmmaking, to evaluate the scripts. Needless to say, these readers also have leftist worldviews.

When a complaint was set before the Public Film Commission about the leftist orientation of the film board and kolecterim, the members of the film commission demanded that the situation be rectified, and the Israel Film Board dutifully appointed some new people to replace the old, but the new appointees had leftist ideologies also, because, as everyone knows, rightists and "settlers" are too busy oppressing Palestinians to develop a film culture of their own, so, in the eyes of the mavens of Israeli cinema and art,  there are no cultured film people with right-leaning views who could make for an even balance on the board and among the script readers.

What about the movies “Ushpizin” and “Fill the Void” you say? They are examples of dati (religious) movies funded by the Israel Film Fund. Well, I can give two reasons why they received money. Firstly, a movie about a Breslov Hasid in love with his Etrog, or a pretty Haredi girl marrying her dead sister’s husband, don’t threaten the art elite of Tel Aviv. As long as a religious Jew stuffs his mouth with gefilte fish and rocks back and forth over his Gemara, leftists can sleep at night.

But let Shuli Rand pick up an M-16 rifle and move to Bet-El to grow his own Etrog tree on the hillsides of biblical Israel, that movie isn’t going to get any funding (Ushpizin is a movie about an expensive etrog bought by a newly-haredi man, ed.). In addition, Shuli was smart. He teamed up with a well-known, secular director and a secular producer, who were both stars of the Tel Aviv film world, and let them get the money from their buddies in the Film Fund.

And Rama Burshtein, the Haredi director of “Fill the Void” used Assaf Amir as her producer - also one of the longtime producers of the cinema junta in Tel Aviv.  As the saying goes – “If you can’t beat them – join them!” And even still, these are only two (totally politically parve) movies out of the 230 movies funded by the Israel Film Fund in the last 18 years.

Unless the Mashiach comes soon, it seems like the only people who can make sure that the government money set aside for moviemaking goes proportionally to all segments of the Israeli society, right and left, religious and secular, and not only to Arabs and leftists, are the members of the Public Film Commission which serves as the advisory committee for Culture Minister MK Miri Regev (Likud).

The Culture Minister can appoint some new members to the Commission to insure a balance of cultural and political views. Then the Commission can limit the directorship of the fund to a term of four years to ensure constant renewal. The Commission can also make sure that the fund’s board of administrators be composed of representatives of every Israeli sector, in proportion to the size of each group, unlike the situation today.

And the Commission can amend the criteria for selecting the readers who review scripts, thus making sure they come from a broader social spectrum than the present pool of readers.

Then, after the readers file their reports and the film board decides what scripts and productions to support, the Commission can review the decisions to make sure the monies are being allocated proportionally to the varied segments of Israeli society, according to the size of the community, and not according to the whim of the board and the Film Fund’s director. All in the name of true democracy and fairness.

I can taste the popcorn already.

(Ed. note:  Motzei Shabbat March 12, the Bet-El Municipality with Arutz 7 is sponsoring a panel in Hebrew, in Bet El, open to the public, about Israeli Cinema. Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, will attend. Rabbi Fishman will be on the panel along with actor Yehuda Barkan, and clips of their movies will be screened. Arutz Sheva Editor-in -Chief Uzi Baruch will be the moderator.  Arutz 7 will also film the evening for broadcast.)