middle east eye

Israeli officials scramble to avert diplomatic crisis in India over ‘Kashmir Files’ film
Azad Essa, Middle East Eye, Nov 28 2022

Senior Israeli diplomats are scrambling to distance their government from disparaging remarks made by an Israeli filmmaker about a film the Indian government has used as a central plank of its narrative on Kashmiri history. On Tuesday, several current and former ambassadors began publishing statements condemning the award-winning Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid for describing The Kashmir Files as “propaganda” and “vulgar” and “inappropriate for an artistic festival.” Lapid was speaking in his capacity as head of the jury of the competition section of feature films at the closing ceremony of the 53rd International Film Festival in India, held in Goa. Lapid said:

We were all of us disturbed and shocked by the 15th film, by the movie The Kashmir Files. That felt to us, seemed to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival. I feel totally comfortable to openly share these feelings here with you on this stage. In the spirit of this festival, we can surely also accept a critical discussion, which is essential for art and life.

On Tuesday, Ron Malka, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry and a former ambassador to Delhi, condemned Lapid’s comments. Malka said in a tweet:

This is not the Israeli position. I stand by my Indian friends today and every day.

Malka’s comments came hours after Naor Gilan, the current Israeli ambassador to New Delhi, wrote an open letter to Lapid in which he castigated the award-winning filmmaker for speaking his mind about the film. He called Lapid’s remarks “insensitive and presumptuous.” The Kashmir Files has been at the centre of a storm over the past year for its dishonest depiction of the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, known as Pandits, from Indian-controlled Kashmir in the early 1990s when an insurgency began against Indian rule. Lapid’s comments are the latest in a stream of criticism levelled at a film that was both celebrated and endorsed by the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. Critics have argued that The Kashmir Files, released in Marc 2022, has been used by the Indian government to demonise Muslims as part of its right-wing Hindutva project, which aims to turn India into a Hindu state. With the support of the government, including several tax breaks across the country, the film has become one of the highest-grossing Indian films of 2022.

Indian reaction to Lapid’s comments has been diverse. Whereas several Indian writers, actors and activists welcomed the criticism, right-wing supporters of Modi’s government resorted to Holocaust denial and equivocations that Hollywood films on the Holocaust were works of propaganda, too. Gilan also hinted that his team was facing intimidation and harassment after Lapid’s review of The Kashmir Files. Gilan said:

You will go back to Israel thinking that you are bold and “made a statement.” We, the representatives of Israel, would stay here. You should see our DM boxes following your “bravery” and what implications it may have on the team under my responsibility.

Indian activists, however, told Middle East Eye that there were several other issues at the festival, including the artwashing of Israeli crimes at the event. On Sunday, the festival hosted the international premiere of the fourth season of the Israeli hit television series Fauda, which is about an Israeli Mista’aravim undercover unit that keeps Israel “safe” from “Palestinian terrorists.” Fauda enjoys a massive following in India. Earlier this month, a television show based on Fauda called Tanaav premiered on the Indian streaming service SonyLiv. Instead of being set in the occupied Palestinian territories, Tanaav is set in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Days prior to the premiere, the BDS movement released a statement calling on the festival to “end its valorisation of apartheid Israel’s death squads, war crimes and settler-colonial violence.” The statement read:

By hosting the Asian premiere of Fauda’s new season, IFFI is complicit in promoting and justifying grave human rights violations. Leaders of Israel’s apartheid regime have expressed their “pride” and “gratitude” for Fauda and its significant role in sanitising Israel’s brutal military occupation.

Achin Vanaik, a Delhi-based writer and social activist, described the Indian government as “admirers” of Israel and Zionism. Vanaik told Middle East Eye:

Since it is pushing its Hindutva messaging through media, education and even Bollywood, there is reason why it may wish to bring in a pro-Zionist film or push the idea that Muslims (whether Palestinians or otherwise) are terrorists or ‘naturally’ prone to terrorism. Of course, Israel provides training for Indian police officers who serve in and outside of Kashmir and here too the message of ‘Islam or Muslim-terrorism’ needing to be punished is one this government would be keen to push.

Under Narendra Modi, Tel Aviv has emerged as a key ally of New Delhi. The countries upgraded ties to a strategic partnership in 2017. India is Israel’s largest buyer of arms and weapons, amounting to around $1b/yr.

Meet the powerful rabbi who once called for killing Palestinians
Shir Hever, Middle East Eye, Nov 28 2022

As far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir is set to become Israel’s next minister of national security, his spiritual guide and ally Rabbi Dov Lior has come under the spotlight for his potential “racist” influence on the new government. Lior, a proponent of the ethnic cleansing of Arab Muslims, is the spiritual leader for the entire far-right Religious Zionism coalition, which includes three parties: Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam. The political alliance won 14 seats in the Israeli parliament earlier this month, more than any religious-nationalist party in the history of the state, making it the second largest bloc in the governing coalition after the Likud. Currently, the parties are locked in government-forming negotations with Netanyahu, reportedly winning control ver several key state institutions. Lior had urged Israelis to cast their votes for the coalition and spoke at its press conference after the election results were published.

Lior is outspoken on political matters, and repeatedly promoted the theory that the “Western Land of Israel,” meaning all of historical Palestine, belongs to the Jews only. He claims that the “Eastern Land of Israel,” today the Kingdom of Jordan, which in his view also belongs to Jews, is less holy and may be compromised. Withdrawal from any part of the “Western Land of Israel,” according to Lior, is a sin. Lior supports the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory and does not recognise the right of Palestinians to own land. After Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Lior’s name was listed among the rabbis who had allegedly issued a ruling condemning Rabin as a traitor worthy of death. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of Otzma, threatened to hurt Rabin in a television interview but was not charged because he was a minor at the time. Subsequently Lior and Ben-Gvir formed a lasting friendship.

Lior was the rabbi of Kiryat Arba in Hebron between 1987 and 2015. One of his disciples, Baruch Goldstein, shot and murdered 29 Palestinians in the Abraham Mosque in Hebron in 1994. Rabbi Lior referred to Goldstein afterwards as “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.” In 2011, he expressed written support for the book “The King’s Torah,” a racist and genocidal book by the rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, which, among other things, endorses the killing of non-Jewish babies before they grow to adulthood and pose an alleged risk to Jews. The Israeli police opened an investigation against Rabbi Lior over potential incitement, and issued an arrest warrant against him when he refused to give testimony. Far-right settlers launched widespread protests against the arrest warrant, and eventually Lior agreed to give a two-hour interview to the police and was released without charges. In Jul 2014, in the midst of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, Lior issued a pesak permitting the destruction of the entire Gaza Strip, and relieving Israeli soldiers from the obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. He said:

It’s permitted to kill innocent civilians and destroy Gaza.

The ruling evoked outrage among the Israeli left and calls to open another investigation against him, but none was opened. Lior doubled down and spoke at a conference in September that year, in which he said:

The left wants to give Arabs a democratic regime. They know how to lead a democratic regime in the same way that I know how to lead camels. In Saudi Arabia a shopkeeper can leave the store open because anyone who tries to steal will have his hand cut off. This is the only language which they know.

He proceeded to say that the Land of Israel must be “clean of Arabs.” The police never opened an investigation into the statement. In 2015, Lior praised the ISIS attacks in Paris in which 137 people were killed, saying:

The wicked ones in blood-soaked Europe deserve it for what they did to our people 70 years ago.

Rabbi Lior called on US Jews to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Trump appointed David Friedman, a friend of Lior, to be the US ambassador to Israel. Friedman donated money to the Israeli Jewish organisation Komemiyut for which Lior was the chief rabbi. Lior venerates the late rabbi Meir Kahane, and spoke at his memorial. Kahane was the founder of the far-right Kach movement which was designated as a terror organisation in several countries, including in the State of Israel itself, but in the memorial Lior spoke next to MK Ben-Gvir, who was a member of Kach himself.

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