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Lebanese Censors Bar Screenings of ‘The Post’

  • Director Steven Spielberg, from left, actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'The Post ' in London, Wednesday, Jan. 10th, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP) ap — Joel C Ryan

  • DIrector Steven Spielberg, left, poses with fans for photographs upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'The Post' in London, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Photo by Grant Pollard/Invision/AP) ap — Grant Pollard

The Washington Post
Published: 1/18/2018 10:00:41 PM
Modified: 1/18/2018 10:00:49 PM

Beirut — Lebanon’s authorities have ordered a ban on the movie The Post because of director Stephen Spielberg’s associations with Israel, amid an intensifying climate of censorship in what has historically been one of the Arab world’s freest countries.

The Censorship Committee of the General Security Directorate decided to ban the film, which was due to open in Lebanon on Wednesday, in accordance with laws obliging Lebanon to enforce the Arab League’s boycott of Israel, said directorate spokesperson Nabil Hanoun on Monday.

Spielberg, who is Jewish, was placed on the Arab League blacklist of sanctioned individuals after his foundation gave a $1 million donation to relief efforts in Israel during its 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. Most of Spielberg’s subsequent films have, however, been shown in Lebanon without problems, except that his name was blacked out from the poster advertising The Adventures of Tintin.

Free speech advocates in Lebanon noted the irony of banning a movie whose plot promotes press freedoms. The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, tells the story of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham’s decision to defy attempts by the courts to suppress reporting of the Pentagon Papers.

“Why is The Post on the chopping block?” asked Gino Raidy of the March advocacy group, on his blog. “Is it because it idolizes journalists who stand up to the powers that be when they do wrong, and choose truth and justice over government bullying?”

But the decision was made entirely on the basis of Spielberg’s interactions with Israel, Hanoun said. The Interior Ministry has the final word on implementing the ban, he said, but it is unusual for the ministry to overturn the censorship committee.

This latest prohibition illustrates what appears to be a growing appetite on the part of the Lebanese authorities for implementing the country’s often arbitrary censorship laws, and especially those pertaining to Israel.

The action movie Wonder Woman was refused permission to be shown last year because the lead actress, Gal Gadot, is an Israeli citizen who had served in the Israeli military. In the past week Lebanon has been gripped by the outcry directed at its world-renowned fashion designer, Elie Saab, after she posted a photograph on her Instagram account showing Gadot wearing one of her dresses. Saab has since deleted the post.

With less fanfare, the movie Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe, was banned in December because the story of survival in the Bolivian jungle was based on the autobiography of an Israeli citizen, Yossi Ghinsberg.

What seems incongruous is that Lebanon is one of the few countries in the Arab world still vigorously boycotting Israel, Raidy said. “Lebanon is the only one doing it, and not even close to consistently, calling to question the point of these pointless bans, and their negative effects on the state of arts and culture in the tiny country.”

Lebanon is also the only country, apart from Syria, that maintains a hostile border with Israel, leaving it with a greater sense of vulnerability than other Arab states, say proponents of the boycott. Israel occupied large areas of southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000. In 2006, it waged a month-long war against Hezbollah after the movement’s fighters abducted two Israeli soldiers. Over 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 43 Israeli civilians died in the fighting.

There is no incongruity in seeking to enforce laws restricting contact with an enemy power, said Samah Idriss, a founding member of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, which promotes the laws banning contact with Israelis. Rather, he said, the relaxation of the laws in recent years was an exception that needs to be reversed, especially at a time when other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are reported to be pursuing closer ties with Israel.

“Israel is still officially at war with Lebanon and when two states are at war it is normal for them to take certain measures against each other,” he said. “Lebanon, or certain sectors in Lebanon, have recently realized the dangers of cultural and academic normalization with Israel ... after this whole Arab overture to Israel.”

The renewed focus on the boycott laws also coincides with a wider clampdown against free speech since President Michel Aoun came to office in 2016. In January, the courts issued an arrest warrant for a television presenter, Maria Maalouf, after she criticized Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. TV talk show host Marcel Ghanem is being prosecuted for criticizing the judiciary.

Over the years, however, films have been banned for a host of reasons. The 2015 movie Spotlight, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the abuse of children by the Catholic clergy, was barred apparently because it cast the Catholic Church in a bad light (around half of Lebanon’s population is Christian).

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