Do we want to read books or watch movies about controversial people with whom we disagree vehemently? Should our government support works that deal with marginal individuals who dedicate themselves to helping the most brutal enemies of Israel? It makes for an exciting argument, which surfaced this week over the decision of Israel’s national lottery to award 150,000 shekel ($49,000) to a film about attorney Lea Tsemel.
To illustrate just what a marginal person Leah Tsemel is, she managed to shock an Ha’aretz interviewer who asked her about her defense of Abd al-Aziz Salha, the man who took part in a lynching of two IDF soldiers who strayed into Ramallah in October 2000. Salha is the crazed man who was photographed waving his bloody hands at the window of a police station, having just murdered his two victims.
Ravit Hecht, who is more likely to share a plate of humus with Ahmad Tibi than, say, Bezalel Smotrich, asked Tsemel if she wasn’t troubled by having to represent the perpetrator of that lynch, and Tsemel said: “Not at all. And what lynch? Big deal…”
So yes, although I believe that in a democracy even the worst criminal is entitled to legal representation, I’m pretty sure Lea Tsemel is as close as a woman with two Polish parents can get to being the devil.
I’d still want to watch a movie about her. “Leah Tsemel, Attorney,” has won the DocAviv international documentary film festival in Tel Aviv best film award for 2019. And the lottery awarded it $49,000 which can go a long way in Israel – but then it took it back.
One aside, because I can’t help myself: the Israeli national lottery is called Mifal HaPayis, which is a stunning example of modern Hebrew poetry in crooked motion: mifal means endeavor, which is a nice choice for an agency that lures millions of Israeli gambling addicts into giving up their lives’ savings in exchange for a dream; the Payis part (pronounced pice, like rice) is a reference to the ancient daily drawing at the Temple to assign the different tasks to the kohanim. Talk about mixing the profane with the holy.
In response to an overwhelming public backlash—which included family members of terror victims pouring red paint on the steps leading to the lottery’s headquarters and calling the award “a spit in the faces of bereaved families and of the blood of our children that has been spilled”—Mifal HaPayis announced on Thursday that it is revoking its 150,000 shekel prize.
Incidentally, Tsemel also represents Arafat Irfaiya who earlier this year raped, murdered and reportedly also mutilated 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, even though in the interview she gave Ha’aretz she said that as a feminist she avoids representing rapists.
Maybe in her heart she thinks of him only as a murderer and mutilator. A woman must have some limits.
The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu deserves the credit for raising awareness about the award to the Tsemel movie, although we should ask ourselves if making a movie about a monster is the same as promoting the monster. Im Tirtzu believes that in this case, given the adoring treatment the film reportedly gives its subject matter, it is.
Everybody is a critic.