This week, Israel Hayom ran a sensational story informing us that the commander of the Education and Youth Corps had banned the screening of the movie "Bethlehem" in Israel Defense Forces events. The movie is considered critical of the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria.
"The movie is not sanctioned for screening before rank and file in a military setting," read the commander's letter. However, according to the directive, the IDF should encourage the senior brass to watch the film. Officers who are company commanders or have a more senior title can view the film, and so can "special" units such as those in the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, because this will "encourage the relevant discourse on values." However, such screening must first be greenlighted by a colonel or someone higher up in the chain of command.
One can surely wonder as to the immediacy of this directive, as if the question of screening this film was the most pressing issue facing the commander. Doesn't he have better things to do than assume the role of movie censor, a function that has luckily been supplanted by an overhauled national review board? Why did he task himself with assigning the classification "banned" or "sanctioned"?
Of course, there is nothing wrong in having a set of overarching guidelines on what movies should be screened under the auspices of the IDF. Some would even say that the army has no business screening movies in the first place, regardless of its content. But having a blacklist of movies and limiting their screening to a select few in the upper echelons is a stretch. This is all the more striking in light of the era we live in, where any movie can be found and viewed at countless venues. This dissonance was further reinforced when the IDF provided lengthy explanations about the ramifications the screening of the movie would have. (The movie deals with the complex relationship between a Shin Bet security agency agent and his Palestinian collaborator.)
This selective prohibition seems to be diametrically opposed to the principles of liberty, equality and free speech. What's more, it makes no sense. This was not the smart thing to do. Precisely because of the complex issues brought forth by the film and the stance it takes, it would have made more sense to encourage its screening on IDF bases, denying no one the chance to watch it. The screening should be complemented by discussions before and after.
Prohibiting the rank and file from watching the movie is a real insult to uniformed men and women. Does the commander of the Education and Youth Corps really hold them and their intelligence level -- the very people who stand guard and protect our country -- in such low regard, to the point that only officers who have the title of company commander can watch it without fear of damaging their precious and innocent souls?
It would be a safe bet to assume that the directive will achieve the exact opposite of what it seeks to accomplish.
As the wisest man said thousands of years ago, "Stolen water is sweet" (Proverbs 9:17). Because of the prohibition, many soldiers will want to taste this forbidden fruit; they will flock to movie theaters to watch the film, having successfully escaped the watchful eye of Big Brother -- the Education and Youth Corps chief. They will watch the film, but they will have missed out on a good discussion that should come with any screening of the film.
As the Supreme Court once said when it affirmed a fundamental principle that has been at the heart of Jewish tradition for thousands of years, seeking the truth and dealing with outrageous, heart-wrenching views that are hard to listen to, must not be carried out by silencing others, nor should it be accompanied by a cover-up. The exact opposite is true: It should be carried out by confronting the controversial views head on in an attempt to debunk them.
Let's hope the strange decision will be reviewed and revised.