Israeli film producer Yoav Roeh spoke passionately at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday about the threat to freedom of speech in Israel under a proposed overhaul of the country’s judiciary by Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.
“We’re here to celebrate our film and it is also a celebration of Israeli cinema. But when we go back to Israel in a few days, it will not be the same Israel we left,” he told the audience at the end of the screening for Asaf Saban’s Delegation (Ha’Mishlahat).
“The Israeli parliament is about to destroy the Israeli democratic system. The new far-right government that is in power is pushing fascist and racist laws. Israel is committing suicide after 75 years of existence.”
Netanyahu swept to victory in elections last November and went on to create Israel’s most far-right, religious conservative government in its nearly 75-year history.
Its controversial judicial overhaul plan has brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis onto the streets over the past week as it attempted to start voting the reforms through parliament.
The reforms would give the government control of top judicial appointments as well as the power to overrule High Court rulings.
Opponents say this would be an attack on the Basic Laws of Israel, the thirteen quasi-constitutional laws of the State of Israel which underpin its institutions and also protect civil rights.
Delegation, which is screening in the Generation 14Plus sidebar, deals with the memory of the Holocaust as seen through the story of a class of Israeli teenagers on a school trip to the camps in Poland.
“It could be that you just watched the last Israeli film representing the Israel we know and soon the freedom of speech of journalism and of artists, could be prohibited. That’s where it’s going,” said Roeh.
The producer called on Israeli embassy staff in the cinema to resist the government’s actions.
“We have here in this cinema guests from the Israeli embassy,” he said. “We want to ask them to resist together with all the Israeli embassies in the world to this violent revolution of far-right forces. This is the time to raise your voice because tomorrow may be too late to save our country.”
Roeh and Aurit Zamir produced the film under the banner of their Tel Aviv-based Gum Films banner with Agnieszka Dziedzic at Warsaw-based Kai Studio and Roshanak Behesht Nedjad at Leipzig-based In Good Company.
The pair has already felt the heat of Israel’s new nationalist government after their production Two Kids A Day by Israeli director David Wachsmann came under attack from newly appointed Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar last month.
The minister said the work – probing Israel’s detention of Palestinian children in the West Bank – portrayed the country and its army in a bad light and threatened to retroactively take back state money given to the film for its production.
Zohar has 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 said.
If the judicial reforms go through, it will be harder for Israel’s film and TV professionals to challenge such a demand in the courts in the future.