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July 22, 2013 8:29 am

Iran Condemns Filmmaker as ‘Traitor’ for Israel Visit

avatar by Steven Emerson

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Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment has never been limited to international politics. Such bigoted attitudes continue to spill over into the arts, which are supposed to transcend political differences. Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf continues to experience a severe backlash for his recent decision to attend the Jerusalem International Film Festival, causing immense criticism from many within Iran and the Diaspora.

The head of the Cinema Organization at the Ministry of Islamic Guidance ordered the Film Museum’s director to remove all of Makhmalbaf’s exhibits, including dozens of international awards.

Makhmalbaf left Iran in 2005. While visiting Israel for his film screening, Makhmalbaf, advocated for strengthened ties between the Iranian and Israeli people. Elements within Iran’s conservative media accused the film director of treason and collaboration with the “Zionists” against the Islamic Republic. Makhmalbaf’s film, “The Gardener,” relates to the Baha’i community, a religious minority which suffers systematic and institutionalized discrimination in Iran. Much of the film was made in Israel, and the trailer emphasized violence committed in the name of religion.

The backlash further emphasizes the Islamic Republic’s fear of the “soft war” allegedly waged by Israel and the West in an attempt to discredit the regime in the eyes of the Iranian population. International efforts to alleviate persecution of minorities and dissidents are perceived as a major threat to the stability of the regime.

Even the so called “pragmatic conservative” camp and reformist affiliated outlets criticized Makhmalbaf’s visit to Israel.

By simply visiting the Jewish state, Makhmalbaf’s image has been transformed from revolutionary cultural icon to a traitorous enemy of the Iranian people.

Roughly 150 intellectuals, academics, authors, artists, journalists, and human rights advocates released a public letter condemning Makhmalbaf, claiming a violation of the cultural and academic boycott of anything Israeli. On the other hand, 80 activists and academics of Iranian descent signed a letter to the Times of Israel praising Makhmalbaf’s visit. The signatories commended Makhmalbaf’s call for Israel to support democratic elements in Iran instead of conducting a military strike on its nuclear sites.

In an interview with the UK’s Guardian, Makhmalbaf described his time in Israel as “amazing,” noting packed houses who attended three different screenings. As an artist, he said he tries to build friendships among people of different faiths and ethnicities.

That’s not something the Iranian regime wants people to see.

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