Israel film dropped from Iraq film festival citing ‘regional complications’

An Israeli film screened at a film festival in Iraqi Kurdistan has been removed from the official competition list due to “regional complications”.

The removal comes just one week after it was announced that the film – Israeli director Yona Rozenkier’s The Dive – would be shown at Duhok International Film Festival (IFF) in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Although the film was screened twice during the festival, it was then removed from the world cinema competition list. This then prompted the competition’s jury to refuse to present the award, saying in a statement that:

During the process, the original selection of films in the competition was changed. This compromised our ability to make a final decision. We are therefore unable to give out the Yilmaz Guney Award this year.

The festival’s organisers explained they had “unwillingly” withdrawn the film “due to regional complications and considerations”, but did not elaborate further. However the jury’s president, Kristian Feigelson, said in a separate statement that the film’s withdrawal was the result of “political pressure coming officially from Baghdad”, Arutz Sheva reported.

Rozenkier also said he believed the film “was removed due to political pressure”, telling Kurdish news agency Rudaw that “I would like to thank the festival deeply for screening there” and “I wish times will come when we will see cinema as a way to bridge cultures, especially in our region”.

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For its part, Iraq denied these allegations, with a spokesman from the Iraqi culture ministry telling AFP: “We have not been contacted by the organisers of the festival and we have not been involved at any level in the holding of this event”.

Although the exact reasons for the removal of the film are unlikely to be revealed, some have placed the decision in the context of the numerous acts of normalisation undertaken by Arab states this week. This weekend, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said described Israel as an accepted Middle East state as he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a rare visit to the sultanate. Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, suggested that “maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as others states] and also bear the same obligations”.

Also this week, Israel’s culture minister attended the “Abu Dhabi Grand Slam” judo tournament in the Emirati capital. Miri Regev was invited to attend to accompany the Israeli judo team as they competed in the tournament, with the UAE promising to allow the Israeli national anthem to be played and the Israeli flag to be flown during the event.

Like Oman, the UAE and other Arab states, Iraq does not recognise Israel’s existence and the two do not maintain diplomatic relations. Iraq also observes the Arab League’s boycott of Israel, which over the years has included a number of films boycotted because they were filmed in Israel.

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However, Israeli-Kurdish relations have been developing in recent years. In May, Israeli MKs held a debate in the Knesset to examine ways in which Israel could help the Kurds establish an independent state in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, citing the need to establish “an independent Kurdish state that supports Israel”.

Kurds have likewise have been known to express support for Israel. In September 2016, hundreds of Kurds attended a memorial service in Duhok to pay their respects to former president of Israel Shimon Peres, claiming Peres was one of the first heads of state who openly showed support for Kurdish independence.