Arab director of Oscar film says he's no Israel envoy

JERUSALEM - The Arab co-director of an Israeli film nominated for an Academy Award has scandalised the Jewish state by saying that he does not see himself as representing the country at Sunday evening's awards ceremony.
The film "Ajami", directed by Israeli Arab Scandar Copti and his Jewish colleague Yaron Shani is a contender in the best foreign film category.

Scandar Copti (right) and Yaron Shani
Scandar Copti (right) and Yaron Shani
It portrays Jews and Arabs in the mixed Ajami district of south Tel Aviv, divided not only by religion but also by clan and ethnicity yet thrown together in the neighbourhood's criminal underworld.
"I am not the Israeli team and I am not representing Israel," Copti told Israel's Channel 2 TV in an interview from Hollywood Sunday ahead of the awards ceremony.
"I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," he added.
The remarks brought howls of outrage from cabinet ministers, legislators and a member of the Israeli Film Academy.
Copti is one of Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens, the descendants of Palestinians who remained in the Jewish state after the 1948 Middle East war that followed its creation.
While the law defines them as fully equal with the Jewish majority, Arab citizens report widespread discrimination and a dearth of government funding for Arab towns and villages.
Israeli Film Academy member Uri Barabash, whose 1984 film "Beyond the Walls" was an Oscar nominee, said Copti's comments were likely to stir up anti-Jewish feeling.
"This is fuel for an anti-Semitic bonfire," he told Israeli Army Radio.
While Israeli media have been rooting vigorously for Ajami, Copti's remarks led Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, of the rightwing Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party to say that an Israeli win could give Copti a platform for views more suited to the militant Palestinian Hamas organisation.
"The person who directed the film with Israeli funding may cover himself with Hamas flags tonight. If the film wins an Oscar, this may be a Pyrrhic victory for the State of Israel," Israeli news site Y-Net quoted Hershkowitz as saying.
Culture Minister Limor Livnat said Copti would never have made it to Hollywood without Israeli government funding for his film.
"Without the state's support, Copti would not be walking on the red carpet tonight," she said in a statement.

Monday, March 8th 2010

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