Israel’s Attorney General Rebukes Censorship Board for Trying to Ban Controversial Play

The Neve Zedek Theater management, armed with a legal opinion by Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir against censorship, refused today to delete two segments of its controversial production "The Patriot" as demanded by the government-appointed film and stage censorship board.

Instead, the theatrical group is demanding immediate recision of the ban imposed by the censors on the production and repeal of all censorship regulations aimed at cultural activities. "The Patriot" by Hanoch Levin, a cabaret style revue rather than a play, opened in Tel Aviv last week in defiance of the ban and despite a police warning that they would shut it down. The police did not, however, interfere with the two performances given so far to packed houses.

The censors found the production to be offensive to nationalistic and religious values and other traditions of Israeli society. But Attorney General Zamir, acting at the request of Neve Zedek, sent an implicit rebuke to the censorship board yesterday for imposing the ban. Zamir maintained that censorship was permissable only in "extreme cases."

His opinion did not mention "The Patriot" but listed a series of Supreme Court rulings which favored freedom of expression over censorship unless a direct threat to national security was involved. Zamir, in effect, called for abolition of the film and stage censorship board.

THE BOARD’S COMPLAINT

The board, for its part, complained that Neve Zedek was using it to generate publicity for "The Patriot." According to board chairman Joshua Justman, the actual production differed appreciably from the script submitted to the censors. Justman alleged that the plawright himself deleted 40 percent of the original text including scenes the board had found offensive. "We discussed one play and they produced another play," Justman said.

The board offered to lift the ban if two sketches are removed from the revue. One compares children caught in the fighting in Lebanon with children in Nazi concentration camps. The other deals with the sexual activities of an Orthodox couple on Friday night. The Neve Zedek management said today that the two sketches were relatively unimportant in view of the overriding censorship issue.

Some of the most vociferous critics of censorship say the board would have done better to ignore the production and let it die of lack of artistic merit. By imposing a ban they assured it of a long run, the critics say.

Justman said today that he has written to Interior Minister Yosef Burg suggesting an in-depth examination of the need for stage censorship. He said his letter was prompted by the Attorney General’s opinion calling all censorship into question. Israel’s censorship regulations are a carry-over from those promulgated by the British Mandate authorities in Palestine in 1926.

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