Makhmalbaf, who is also a Green Movement activist and a former revolutionary, has divided Iranians over whether his attendance is a step towards healing “rifts and distances” between the nations, as he stated, or whether it is in absolute disregard for Palestinian human rights, as his critics say.
Makhmalbaf participated in the Jerusalem Film Festival with his new movie, The Gardner:
The conversation is still hot and fresh among Iranians in social media and has prompted petitions signed by activists, academicians and journalists within the diaspora. The virtual world became a battleground for discussions about Makhmalbaf's trip.
First, an open letter signed by a group of “Iranian scholars, artists, journalists and activists” was published [fa] lamenting the director's neglect of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel:
We cannot in good conscience stand by Mr. Makhmalbaf and his decision which will inevitably validate the Israeli occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. We ask not only that Mr. Makhmalbaf stand with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, but that he be a messenger of liberation for everyone, including both Palestinians and Iranians.
Then, another group of activists and academics penned a letter [fa] in support of the director's visit to Israel lauding his “brave action” as a peaceful gesture towards “conveying the message of friendship”:
We condemn the politics of war whether it is advanced by officials of the Islamic Regime or some officials in Israel. Instead, we endorse, support and welcome, the position of Mohsen Makhmalbaf that instead of a military attack, Iran’s “democratic forces” should be supported. Just like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, we are unafraid to stretch out our hands in friendship with the citizens of Israel and believe that art can be a tool that brings people together regardless of people’s racial, linguistic and political differences.
The polarisation was not limited to academia. In social media the subject of the director's visit to Israel was hot among the netizens too.
Samareh, looks at the criticism with a pinch of salt and a bit of cynicism, commenting on Balatarin, an Iranian link sharing website:
Makhmalbaf took a great measure going to Israel and speaking of peace. He showed that the Iranian nation is different from the Iranian regime which is a big blow to the clerical government. One reason [for such harsh criticisms] is a by-law from the ministry of intelligence to all its footmen: “Tarnish Makhmalbaf's name immediately, only make sure that this is done from the position of the Islamic Republic's enemies to divide the opposition. If, in the meantime, you had to swear to the Islamic Republic there is absolutely no problem with that.
Iranian blogger, Adel, expresses his disdain, seeing a big distinction between what artists do from the realm of politics and, thus, dismissing what Mohsen Makhmalbaf did as futile from the very beginning:
If we are a bit realistic, we will see that the political discourse of artists oftentimes does not have any effect on politicians; Especially Israeli politicians who do not even listen to their American counterparts! Now which cause is Mr. Makhmalbaf is trying to serve? If he wishes to bring the two nations closer to peace, its actual outcome will not be anything other than bringing out a racist government from isolation.
Following this trip, the Islamic Republic's deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Javad Shamaghdari, ordered all Makhmalbaf's memorabilia to be “cleansed” from the Iranian national museum of cinema and a cleric has renounced him as an apostate.
One thing is for sure in this heated conversation: that just like any other debate in the Iranian context, Mohsen Makhmalbaf has brought out the colourful sphere of Iranian society that is unlike what many may wish to think.