Israeli Culture Minister Threatens To Claw Back State Funding From Local Doc ‘Two Kids A Day’ Exploring Detention Of Palestinian Children

Israel’s newly appointed Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar has lashed out against Israeli filmmaker David Wachsmann’s award-winning documentary Two Kids A Day, probing the country’s detention of Palestinian children in the West Bank, and is threatening to take back its state funding.

The minister, who took up office in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hard-right government at the end of December, has criticized the work for presenting Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers “as those who harm children, while terrorists are presented as innocent victims”.

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Zohar said he had requested Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to investigate whether it would be possible to retroactively take back state money given to the film for its production.

“The Ministry of Culture and Sports under my leadership will not finance works that harm the good name of the State of Israel, both in Israel and in the world,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

Two Kids A Day explores Israel’s detention of Palestinian youngsters, suggesting as per the title that on average Israeli Defences Forces arrest two children a day, or some 700 youngsters a year.

Sometimes the children have been caught throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or committing other low-level crimes, sometimes not, but Wachsmann and human rights activists say that Israel’s detention and treatment of the youngsters cannot be justified.

Wachsmann puts forward the theory that the detention of Palestinian children in West Bank is being used by Israeli security forces as a way to exercize control over the Palestinian population in the occupied territory.

Two Kids A Day premiered in the Israeli Documentary Competition of the Jerusalem Film Festival in July, winning the Best Research Award. It will get its international premiere at the upcoming Norwegian human rights documentary film festival Human in Oslo in March.

The film has stoked the ire of Israeli right-wing activists who have been picketing screenings of the film. The situation came to a head last Wednesday when a group of these protestors tried to shut a screening down at the Herzliya Cinematheque.

Zohar made his comments in the wake of the disturbance, coming out in favor of the protestors.

The minister has since said he is working on a measure under which filmmakers and producers will have to sign a document in which they pledge not to harm the reputation of the State of Israel or its army to secure state funding.

“It is permissible to make any films you want within the law, but we don’t have to finance them,” he was quoted as saying to Israeli media on Monday.

Two Kids A Day is an Israeli-Finnish co-production lead produced by Aurit Zamir and Yoav Roeh. The film was supported by The New Fund for Cinema and TV, YES TV and The Israel Lottery.

Roeh told Deadline that Zohar’s threats were a worrying development for freedom of expression and creativity in Israel.

“Firstly, he is trying to change the law so he can take funds back from films that he doesn’t like. Filmmakers will be afraid to spend state funds on films if the government can take it back after they’re completed, which will result in self-censorship,” said the producer.

“The next step will be a law curtailing the freedom of the artistic choices of filmmakers,” he continued.

It is not the first time an Israeli Minister of Culture has tried to tie in state film funds with stipulations banning criticism of the State of Israel and the Israeli army.

Former Culture Minister Miri Regev, who served under Netanyahu’s last government from 2015 to 2020, tried to push through the Loyalty in Culture bill in 2018.

Israel’s cultural sector lobbied hard against the move and attempts to get it through Israel’s Knesset parliament were ditched after Netanyahu’s majority was weakened by defections, making it less likely to pass.

Israeli state cinema funding is administered by a collection of around half a dozen autonomous funds that until now have mainly resisted attempts at censorship.

Roeh said the situation is different this time round following Netanyahu’s victory in elections in last November and his creation of Israel’s most far-right, religious conservative government in its nearly 75-year history.

“The new government which is a very right-wing government is trying to change everything,” said Roeh, noting the government’s current drive to reform the judiciary, to give it the power to appoint judges and overturn High Court decisions.

“Everything that democracy is, they are trying to change,” he continued.

Roeh suggested the government’s actions were in a similar vein to those of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary, where his ruling Fidesz party has eroded the independence of the country’s judiciary and freedom of speech during its 12 years in power.

“Hungary is the model for our new prime minister,” said the producer.

Roeh’s comments came just two days after about 80,000 people attended a demonstration in Tel Aviv protesting the government’s reforms of the judiciary.

Zohar was among the ministers dismissing the demonstrations.

“Tens of thousands of people were at the demonstrations tonight. In the election held here two and a half months ago, millions turned out,” he Tweeted. “We promised the people change, we promised governance, we promised reforms – and we will make good on that.”

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