Scandal at the ‘Israeli Oscars’

Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars tries to be as classy as its American counterpart, but this year failed miserably

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Israelis don’t have the finesse of actors like Julia Louis Dreyfus who can skewer politicians without creating a scandal. “Our show [Veep] started out as a political satire but it now feels more like a sobering documentary, so, I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it,” she said to the bemusement of her Emmy audience, not all of whom were Democrats.

The Israeli Oscar equivalent, The Ophir Awards, that took place last Thursday, was meant to look like its glitzy American counterpart. Instead it turned out to an embarrassing event for everybody, including Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev (picutred). The presence of a political figure at this event is not surprising, given that the Israeli film industry is partially subsidized by the Israeli government. Regev was therefore duly invited to speak.

But Regev is not just another minister. Even before she took office there were actors, singers and journalists who thought it appropriate to defame her. The acclaimed Gavri Banai was the first to call her behema (exceptionally vulgar person), and popular pop singer Aviv Geffen compared her to religious racist Bentzi Gopstein (head of the anti-assimilation and anti-Christian organization Lehava). 

For her part, Regev has always vowed to fight the elitist left-wing Ashkenazi cultural guild that has for decades dominated the industry and dictated the list of Ophir winners. Her contention has been that the Israeli Left is becoming ever more extreme, especially in its use of film and music to justify Palestinian terror and blame everything on Israel.

Given this background this year’s Ophir Awards ceremony was volatile from the get-go. And yet, the organizers of the event thought it appropriate to invite rappers (Jewish) Yossi Tzuberi and (Arab) Tamer Nafas to perform a particularly provocative style of poetry slam in which the lyrics allude to the virulently anti-Israel work “ID Card (1964) by Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish. 

And in case anyone was wondering, the lyrics of the Israel-bashing rhyme were written by the rap duo’s Jewish half, Tzuberi.

Regev, who most likely was pre-informed about these rappers, walked out as soon as Tzuberi and Nafar raised their black-gloved hands, a pro-Palestinian gesture, and the uproar ensued when she walked up to the podium to give her speech. Booed and constantly interrupted, Regev remained resolute and finished her speech, a political one to be sure.

Explaining her protest against using Darwish’s poem, Regev wrote on Facebook: “For moral and ethical reasons there is one voice which should be excluded from our discourse, which marks the limit of our tolerance, and this is the voice which is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people! This isn’t a struggle between Left and Right. This is a struggle for our survival.”

Controversial as Regev may be, it seems that at least this time she struck a chord that crosses partisan lines. It seems that this time even hard-line Labor voters are thinking that the inclusion of Darwish was outrageous and shameful.


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