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Egypt film festival sparks protests over French director accused of Israel support

CAIRO: The decision by an Egyptian film festival to honor an acclaimed French director accused of supporting Israel has sparked controversy in the country.

The Cairo International Film Festival said this week that Claude Lelouche, 80, would be feted at the event next month.

But the decision has sparked a backlash from some Egyptian actors, directors and critics, with some even threatening to boycott the event.

They claim that Lelouche, an Oscar winner who has made more than 50 films, is overly sympathetic to Israel. But the festival organizers said that just because he travels to Israel, does not mean he can not be honored by Egypt.

“He is known for his intransigence of the Israeli Zionist entity, and has made this clear hundreds of times,” Ahmed Kamal, the Egyptian actor and director, said.

He said he would boycott the festival and called on the event’s president, Professor Mohamed Hafsi, to reverse the decision.

While Kamal acknowledged the director’s great achievements, he said standing up against Israel was more important.

“He is part of the history of French and international cinema, but our position on the Zionist entity is not only in defense of the state of Palestine but also in defense of the state of Egypt.”

Kamal said Lelouche has repeatedly declared that he considers Israel an example in resisting fear and hatred in the region. 

Malik Khoury, head of the film department at the American University in Cairo, said even fellow French director Jean-Luc Goddard has referred to Lelouche as a “Zionist.”

“Are we now at the stage of ‘love Israel’, while hundreds of artists from all over the world are united with the Palestinians and refuse to go or deal with the Zionist entity?” 

Egypt is one of the only Arab counties with full diplomatic relations with Israel after the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979.

But in recent years Palestinians have adopted a peaceful boycott movement to try and pressure Israel over its decades long occupation of Palestinian land. The boycott has included artistic figures and events.

Egyptian film critic Yacoub El-Deeb described the decision to honor Lelouche as dangerous.  

“It may be the beginning leading to Israel itself participating later in the festival,” he said.

The festival organisers said they had checked through the interviews Lelouche had given to Israeli media on a recent visit and “that all come within the usual courtesy of artists when visiting any country.”

“Since the members of the Advisory Committee as individuals and the Cairo Festival as a cultural institution have stood throughout its history with the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people, the Committee calls upon everyone to provide them with any document containing a political position declaring Claude Lelouche against the Palestinian cause or the rights of the Arab people, a signed statement, or any other form of political solidarity with the Israeli position,” the organizers said.

Their position was backed by the famous Egyptian producer Mohamed Al-Adl.

“Who knows his views on Zionism? Let’s not take a stand. The man is a famous director, and like many others it’s normal for him to go to Israel,” he said.

Egyptian film critic Youssef Sharif Rizkallah agreed.

“Claude is a great French filmmaker, has a real passion for movies,” he said. “He is unprecedented in French cinema, preferring to follow his own aspirations rather than to catch up with Hollywood cinema through simple stories whose love is repeated and multiplied.”

Lelouche was born in Paris in 1937 to an Algerian jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism. His film  “A Man and a Woman” won the Palme d’Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, and two Oscars 

The Cairo International Film Festivalruns from Nov. 20 to Nov. 29.

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