Sweden: Israeli ambassador demands film banned in schools

2 November 2015

The Swedes are currently debating whether the film ‘The dead still have a name’ is anti-Semitic or not, and whether it should be banned, as the Israeli ambassador to Sweden has demanded.
‘The dead still have a name’ is a new film focusing on the ship drama in 2011 when Israeli troops in “international sea” boarded a ship and killed nine Turkish activists. The ship with activists, including several well-known Swedish artists, wished to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and bring food and other supplies to Gaza.

In October 2015, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, demanded that the film should not be shown to Swedish high school students because he considered it “anti-Semitic” and providing a simplified picture of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

He published an open letter to the Mayor of Gothenburg, Anneli Hulthén, where he demanded that this film should not be shown in classes in the municipality.

The film was recently debated in an article and a radio programme by Swedish Radio’s Kulturnytt. Asking film critic Emma Engstrom whether she considered the film as controversial, she replied: “No, because a documentary filmmaker does not have an obligation to give all sides a voice, but do have a free artistic choice.”

So far, the Gothenburg municipality has stated they will continue with their plans to show the film to high school students in the municipality.

“Politically hijacked”
This is not the first time an Israeli ambassador intervenes in the cultural spaces of Sweden. A decade ago, in 2004, discussions were rolling back and forth in Sweden after another Israeli ambassador had pulled the red ‘anti-Semitism card’ over an artwork he considered as offensive to Jews.

The artwork ‘Snow White and The Madness of Truth’ (Swedish: Snövit och sanningens vansinne) briefly came to the attention of the international media after it was vandalised on 16 January 2004 by Zvi Mazel, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden at the time.

The art installation art was created by Swedish, Israeli-born composer and musician Dror Feiler, and his Swedish wife, artist Gunilla Sköld-Feiler.

The Israeli ambassador claimed it was “antisemitic in nature”, so he disconnected the electricity powering the installation and tipped one of its lights into the water, causing a short circuit. When Mazel was asked to leave he refused and had to be escorted out by museum security. The entire event was filmed by the museum’s own cameras.
The artists claimed the central message of the artwork was one about tolerance, freedom of thought, and diversity.

Mazel later asked in an interview, “If we Jews say that this offends us, why can’t a government remove it?”
Both Kristian Berg, head of the museum, and the artists received many threats. Kristian Berg stated that he “did not hear anyone who saw the work say that it was an anti-Semitic installation, against the Jewish people or against the Israeli people, I therefore think that this work was politically hijacked – the interpretation that Ambassador Mazel gave it was very narrow and very political.”

Dror Feiler was on board the ship heading to Gaza which was boarded by the Israelis. For some days he was imprisoned and his instrument confiscated.

Photo above: Left: Ambassador Isaac Bachman’s Twitter-account. Right: Poster for the film ‘The dead still have a name’

» Sveriges Radio – 30 October 2015:
Israels ambassadör vill stoppa skolvisningar av Ship to Gaza-film

» Sydsvenskan – 4 February 2015:
Den andra sagan om Snövit

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