Egypt film festival sparks protests over French director accused of Israel support

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Claude Lelouche, the famed French director will be honored at the film festival in Cairo. (CIFF)
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Claude Lelouche, the famed French director will be honored at the film festival in Cairo. (CIFF)
Updated 18 October 2018

Egypt film festival sparks protests over French director accused of Israel support

  • The Cairo Cinema Festival said this week that Claude Lelouche, 80, would be feted at the event next month
  • Decision has sparked a backlash from some Egyptian actors, directors and critics

CAIRO: The decision by an Egyptian film festival to honor an acclaimed French director accused of supporting Israel has sparked controversy in the country.

The Cairo International Film Festival said this week that Claude Lelouche, 80, would be feted at the event next month.

But the decision has sparked a backlash from some Egyptian actors, directors and critics, with some even threatening to boycott the event.

They claim that Lelouche, an Oscar winner who has made more than 50 films, is overly sympathetic to Israel. But the festival organizers said that just because he travels to Israel, does not mean he can not be honored by Egypt.

“He is known for his intransigence of the Israeli Zionist entity, and has made this clear hundreds of times,” Ahmed Kamal, the Egyptian actor and director, said.

He said he would boycott the festival and called on the event’s president, Professor Mohamed Hafsi, to reverse the decision.

While Kamal acknowledged the director’s great achievements, he said standing up against Israel was more important.

“He is part of the history of French and international cinema, but our position on the Zionist entity is not only in defense of the state of Palestine but also in defense of the state of Egypt.”

Kamal said Lelouche has repeatedly declared that he considers Israel an example in resisting fear and hatred in the region. 

Malik Khoury, head of the film department at the American University in Cairo, said even fellow French director Jean-Luc Goddard has referred to Lelouche as a “Zionist.”

"Are we now at the stage of ‘love Israel’, while hundreds of artists from all over the world are united with the Palestinians and refuse to go or deal with the Zionist entity?" 

Egypt is one of the only Arab counties with full diplomatic relations with Israel after the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979.

But in recent years Palestinians have adopted a peaceful boycott movement to try and pressure Israel over its decades long occupation of Palestinian land. The boycott has included artistic figures and events.

Egyptian film critic Yacoub El-Deeb described the decision to honor Lelouche as dangerous.  

“It may be the beginning leading to Israel itself participating later in the festival,” he said.

The festival organisers said they had checked through the interviews Lelouche had given to Israeli media on a recent visit and “that all come within the usual courtesy of artists when visiting any country.”

“Since the members of the Advisory Committee as individuals and the Cairo Festival as a cultural institution have stood throughout its history with the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people, the Committee calls upon everyone to provide them with any document containing a political position declaring Claude Lelouche against the Palestinian cause or the rights of the Arab people, a signed statement, or any other form of political solidarity with the Israeli position,” the organizers said.

Their position was backed by the famous Egyptian producer Mohamed Al-Adl.

“Who knows his views on Zionism? Let’s not take a stand. The man is a famous director, and like many others it’s normal for him to go to Israel,” he said.

Egyptian film critic Youssef Sharif Rizkallah agreed.

“Claude is a great French filmmaker, has a real passion for movies,” he said. “He is unprecedented in French cinema, preferring to follow his own aspirations rather than to catch up with Hollywood cinema through simple stories whose love is repeated and multiplied.”

Lelouche was born in Paris in 1937 to an Algerian jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism. His film  "A Man and a Woman" won the Palme d'Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, and two Oscars 

The Cairo International Film Festivalruns from Nov. 20 to Nov. 29.


Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

Updated 22 August 2019

Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

  • Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic

TEL AVIV: In the early morning, when the only sound on Tel Aviv beach is the waves, Yosef Salman and his team pick up plastic debris left by bathers or cast up by the sea.
Working in heat and humidity with large rakes, they scoop plastic cups, cigarette ends, empty sunscreen tubes and soiled babies’ nappies.
Also present, but impossible to separate from the sand, are microplastics, tiny particles of plastic debris that have been broken down by sun and salt.
“When it rains... you can see tons of plastic in the sand,” says Ariel Shay, of the Plastic Free Israel movement, which organizes volunteer beach cleanups.
Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic.
A June report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ranked Tel Aviv’s coastline as the third most polluted by plastic waste in the Mediterranean, behind Barcelona and southern Turkey.
Valencia, Alexandria, Algiers and Marseille were listed in fourth to seventh places.
With around four million inhabitants, Tel Aviv is Israel’s most populous metropolitan area.
“Every time I go to the beach now, I spend my time cleaning — it’s horrible!” complains Shani Zylbersztejn, with an eye on her nine-month-old daughter, who plays with a plastic fork freshly dug from the sand.
In the upper-crust town of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, Limor Gorelik, of the environmental protection NGO Zalul, patrols the sands, offering beachgoers bamboo cups and reusable bags in a bid to wean them from single-use plastics.
Gorelik blames Israel’s passion for plastic on a lack of education and on deeply ingrained habits, such as using disposable tableware for family picnics.
Observant Jews who want a beachfront lunch on Saturdays are forbidden from washing the dishes afterwards, because their faith bans them from working on the Sabbath.
“They’re not permitted to wash dishes so they use disposable plastic,” Gorelik says.
Even plastic waste dumped in the bins that dot the beaches can end up in the sea, carried by the wind or by birds which rip open garbage bags in search of food.
Independent researcher Galia Pasternak has analyzed coastal plastic pollution in Israel.
According to her data, 60 percent of the waste on the beach comes from the bathers themselves.
Some is also borne by currents from Gaza and Egypt in the south or from Lebanon further north.
In 2005, Israel’s environmental protection ministry launched a program offering local councils incentives for proven results in cleaning their beaches.
Subject to regular inspection, councils that meet requirements get funding, while failing authorities face cuts or even court, says Ran Amir, head of the environment ministry’s marine division.

Amir cites the case of the popular Palmahim beach, south of Tel Aviv.
Palmahim municipal council was taken to court and fined over the state of the beach — which has since become “one of the cleanest beaches in Israel today,” he says.
The ministry’s strategy in recent years has also included public service messages on radio and online, along with fines, recycling facilities and education, according to Amir.
“It think it has partially worked,” says Pasternak, who helped set up some of those programs.
Zalul’s Gorelik, however, says Israel is still trailing behind other countries.
She says charges introduced in supermarkets in 2017 for plastic bags — previously given away free — are too low, at just 0.10 Israeli shekels (0.02 euros/ $0.03) each.
“It’s not enough,” Gorelik says, adding that even this modest measure does not apply to small grocery stores.
She points to new European Union restrictions on single-use plastics.
“Europeans are the leaders on the subject,” she says.
“Here, we are very far away.”