A DAY after Israeli filmmaker and a jury chief at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, Nadav Lapid, described the movie The Kashmir Files as “propaganda” and “vulgar”, the Israeli government stepped in Tuesday to distance itself from the remarks.
Taking to Twitter to post an “open letter” to Lapid, Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon said, “You should be ashamed”. Writing that Lapid has “abused the Indian invitation” to chair the jury in the “worst way”, Gilon posted, “As a human being I feel ashamed and want to apologize to our hosts for the bad manner in which we repaid them for their generosity and friendship.”
Ambassador of Israel to India @NaorGilon dismissed the statement of
Nadav Lapid, criticising The Kashmir Files as “propaganda” & said the views of a private person won’t change anything in the Indo-Israeli ties. Our relationship is much stronger @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/25JfWsPzNI
— ManrajGrewalSharma (@grewal_sharma) November 29, 2022
The tweets were retweeted by Union I&B Minister Anurag Thakur.
In Mumbai, Israel’s consul general Kobbi Shoshani shared the stage at a press conference with actor Anupam Kher, who played a key role in the controversial movie. Saying that Lapid’s comments had broken his heart, Shoshani declared that “The Kashmir Files” is not propaganda but a “strong movie” that portrays the suffering of the people of Kashmir.
Speaking to The Indian Express later, Ambassador Gilon said, “I think one private person with his opinion wouldn’t change anything and that’s what I was trying to tell — that our relations are much stronger than this individual… Every person is entitled to his own opinion and my opinion is obviously different. I am very happy in India and I think our relations will continue to grow regardless of this individual and we will continue to celebrate our cooperation, cultural closeness and unity rather than focusing on disturbing noises.”
The Israeli establishment’s view — reflected in the sharply worded comments of its envoys — is a product of the growing proximity between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NDA Government and Israel over the past eight years.
While New Delhi has engaged with Tel Aviv in a range of sectors, from defence to security to agriculture to innovation in the past two decades, it has been much more open than during the previous Congress-led UPA era about the bilateral ties. At the same time, India has maintained its support for the Palestinian cause — a diplomatic touchstone etched over the past 75 years.
An open letter to #NadavLapid following his criticism of #KashmirFiles. It’s not in Hebrew because I wanted our Indian brothers and sisters to be able to understand. It is also relatively long so I’ll give you the bottom line first. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED. Here’s why: pic.twitter.com/8YpSQGMXIR
— Naor Gilon (@NaorGilon) November 29, 2022
This outreach has been part of India’s diplomatic calculus in west Asia as it has strengthened ties with all sides in the region — from Arab partners like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well Israel’s biggest adversary Iran. This careful and deft diplomatic tightrope walk has been touted by Indian officials as one of Delhi’s foreign policy achievements.
Lapid was jury chairman of the International Competition section of IFFI. On Monday, during the closing ceremony, he said: “We were, all of us, disturbed and shocked by the 15th film, ‘The Kashmir Files’. That felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.”
Hours later, the Indian member in the jury, director Sudipto Sen, posted on Twitter that Lapid’s remarks were “completely his personal opinion” and “nothing to do with the esteemed” jury. Other members of the jury were American producer Jinko Gotoh, French film editor Pascale Chavance and French documentary filmmaker Javier Angulo Barturen.
Israel’s Ambassador responds to compatriot filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s criticism of Kashmir Files. For the longest time, people even denied the Holocaust and called Schindler’s List a propaganda, just like some are doing to Kashmir Files.
Truth eventually triumphs, no matter what… https://t.co/duU36qNjDg
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) November 29, 2022
Known for his anti-establishment views, Lapid is a noted writer-director whose film “Synonyms” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019. Released in March, “The Kashmir Files”, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, is based on the “exodus and killings” of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s and was endorsed by Union Ministers and granted tax-free status in several BJP-ruled states. But its critics said the movie presented a biased narrative.
On Tuesday, moving to insulate India-Israel ties from Lapid’s remarks, Ambassador Gilon posted a series of tweets in English, saying, “It’s not in Hebrew because I wanted our Indian brothers and sisters to be able to understand.”
“In Indian culture they say that a guest is like God. You have abused in the worst way the Indian invitation to chair the panel of judges at @IFFIGoa as well as the trust, respect and warm hospitality they have bestowed on you,” he said.
“I’m no film expert but I do know that it’s insensitive and presumptuous to speak about historic events before deeply studying them and which are an open wound in India because many of the involved are still around and still paying a price,” he said.
“As a son of a holocaust survivor, I was extremely hurt to see reactions in India to you that are doubting Schindler’s List, the Holocaust and worse. I unequivocally condemn such statements. There is no justification. It does show the sensitivity of the Kashmir issue here,” Gilon posted.
In Mumbai, consul general Shoshani said, “The first person I called in the morning was Anupam Kher, my friend, just to apologise. Apologise about a speech that was a private opinion. It has nothing to do with the state of Israel, officially and unofficially.”
Asked if the controversy would impact India-Israel ties, he said, “It was a damage, definitely we need to accept it. The Ambassador made it very clear this morning and I did as well. It’s good that this raised the question of the people who suffered there in Kashmir. I have come here to give my support to my friends in India. India and Israel are full democracies. Freedom of speech is extremely important in both countries.”
Kher called Lapid a “person who himself is vulgar and an opportunist”. “If he himself does not like a film, you are most welcome to say it. But if you are a jury member, you cannot use words like vulgar, propaganda,” the actor said.
(With PTI inputs from Mumbai)