Israeli diplomats respond to 'The Gatekeepers'

12:00 Mar 20 2013 Israel

Former heads of the Shin Bet in 'The Gatekeepers.' Clockwise from top left: Jacob Perry, Avraham Shalom, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin. Photo by Screenshot

In a flurry of telegrams, Israeli diplomats respond to 'The Gatekeepers'
From their bases across the world, Israeli ambassadors grapple with international screenings of the controversial Oscar-nominated democracy, debating whether or not, at its core, the film is anti-Israel.

By Barak Ravid for Haaretz

On February 17, 280 people crammed into the main hall of the Light House Cinema in Dublin, where the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival was being held. Despite the crush, dozens of disappointed visitors still couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out screening of the Israeli documentary “The Gatekeepers,” directed by Dror Moreh.

The following morning, the deputy Israeli Ambassador in Ireland, Nurit Tinari-Modai, sent a cable to the Division for Cultural and Scientific Affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Nurit Tinari-Modai is considered the leader of the more militant stream of thought at the Foreign Office with respect to public relations and fighting anti-Israeli elements. She also has years of experience in promoting Israeli culture abroad.

Contrary to what many may have expected, the deputy ambassador wasn’t uncomfortable that the film had been shown, and even painted the event in a positive light. “Why is there a large demand to see the film?” she wrote. “Well, it was nominated for an Oscar – which automatically attracts attention and curiosity; the obsession with Israel applies to film-lovers as well, and finally the nature of the film [attracts interest].”

She also added another interesting remark: “There wasn’t an anti-Israeli demonstration outside the cinema.” This is big news when it comes to Ireland.

“The Gatekeepers” was screened in dozens of capitals and cities around the world, and received an unprecedented amount of media exposure. Even before the Oscars – and especially after – nearly all the Israeli embassies around the world have been busy asking the question: Does the film benefit the country or does it do it a disservice?

Dozens of cables like the one from the Dublin embassy have arrived at the Foreign Ministry’s offices over the last few months. The internal debate between Israeli diplomats raises the question of whether the film reinforces the anti-Israeli narrative in the West, or alternatively paints a more complex and positive picture of Israeli society and the internal arguments that take place within it.

Some Israeli diplomats, like Israel’s ambassador to Serbia, Yossi Levy, strongly criticized Dror Moreh and his films, even if they did so indirectly. In a cable the ambassador sent several days after the one from Tinari-Modai, he claimed that Israeli directors make films about the Palestinian issue only so that they can win prizes abroad.

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