Arab-Palestinian film director and actor Mohammad Bakri, a citizen of Israel, should be prosecuted for visiting an enemy country after he participated in the “Palestine Days” festival in Beirut, wrote Culture Minister Miri Regev in a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday, September 24. Culture Minister Regev is asking the attorney general to investigate the director for alleged “incitement against Israel.” “He has crossed a line, literally and figuratively,” Regev wrote, “visiting an enemy state and inciting against our state. I ask that you open an investigation and summon him immediately upon his arrival in Israel.”
On Saturday, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar put Bakri on its cover, quoting him as saying “The fact that I am here in Lebanon is, in of itself, a victory over the racist Zionist entity.” However, the director told Arab media in Israel that he did not say many of those things and the accurate quotes were taken out of context.
The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) published on Sunday, September 24, a statement in solidarity with Bakri. Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) accused Regev of inciting against Arab citizens of Israel in an “ultranationalist provocative display.” “Bakri spoke against the continued occupation, and that is what really bothers Regev,” Jabareen posited. “Regev’s populism harms culture, democracy and the delicate relations between Jews and Arabs in this country… She wants to prevent Arab artists from connecting to their natural cultural space in the Arab world.” Jabareen added that it is the right of Arabs in Israel to develop cultural and social connections with the rest of the Arab world, and that a democracy cannot force a minority “to shake off its broader culture and the cultural space to which it belongs.”
Likud MK Oren Hazan tweeted that he plans to file a complaint with the police against Bakri “for treason against the State of Israel, due to his connections with Hezbollah, a crime that, according to the law, carries the death penalty.” While the law does state that someone can be sentenced to death for treason, it was only invoked once, against Israeli soldier Meir Tobianski in a drumhead court martial in 1948.
Earlier this month Regev asked the Finance Ministry to reduce funding to the Hebrew-Arab Theater in Jaffa, that Bakri co-directs after it put on two performances of readings from Palestinian prisoners that the minister considered to be “incitement to terror.” The performance was held also at Hagada Hasmalit (Left Bank) in Tel-Aviv.
The outspoken Regev, a former military censor who belongs to what is seen as Israel’s most right-wing government ever, has also repeatedly taken on the country’s largely left-wing cultural elite. In recent days, she lashed out against a new film, “Foxtrot,” which won the grand jury prize at the Venice film festival as well as Israel’s best film award, making it eligible for the Oscars. Regev, who accused the film of “choosing to lie about the Israeli army,” vowed to change how public funds are allocated to the film industry.