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Israeli filmmaker faces death threats after Berlinale speech

Israeli filmmaker Yuval Abraham faces death threats after Berlin film festival 'apartheid speech'
4 min read
28 February, 2024
Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham has described having received death threats for supporting a Gaza ceasefire and ending the Israeli occupation.
Israeli director Yuval Abraham speaks on stage after having received the Berlinale documentary award for 'No Other Land' with his fellow Palestinian director during the awards ceremony of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, on February 24 [Getty]

Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham spoke out on Tuesday about his encounter with death threats following his highly-publicised speech in Saturday’s Berlin Film Festival.  

Abraham and Palestinian filmmaker Basel Adra addressed the audience following their Best Documentary Film category win that brought them for the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, most commonly known as the Berlinale.   

Upon receiving the award for 'No Other Land', the duo highlighted the disproportionate killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza

Adra said the Palestinian population was being "massacred" by Israel, while Abraham labelled Tel Aviv's occupation of the Palestinian territories as "apartheid". 

Since the speech, Adra and Abraham have faced widespread backlash among pro-Israel critics, who claim they made anti-Semitic remarks on stage in relation to Israel's military assault

Abraham has since taken to his account on the social media platform X to lambast the accusations put forth by German and Israeli officials. 

He also alleged receiving a series of death threats targeting both the director and his close relatives, denouncing the act as a form of continued silencing of Palestinians and their supporters

"A right-wing Israeli mob came to my family’s home yesterday to search for me, threatening close family members who fled to another town in the middle of the night. I am still getting death threats and had to cancel my flight home," Abraham wrote in his post on Tuesday. 

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"The appalling misuse of this word by Germans, not only to silence Palestinian critics of Israel, but also to silence Israelis like me who support a ceasefire that will end the killing in Gaza and allow the release of the Israeli hostages, empties the word antisemitism of meaning and thus endangers Jews all over the world." 

"As my grandmother was born in a concentration camp in Libya and most of my grandfather’s family was murdered by Germans in the Holocaust, I find it particularly outraging that German politicians in 2024 have the audacity to weaponize this term against me in a way that endangered my family," he continued. 

"But above all else, this behavior puts Palestinian co-director Basel Adra’s life in danger, who lives under a military occupation surrounded by violent settlements in Masafer Yatta. He is in far greater danger than I am." 

German officials stated that they will investigate how the Berlin film festival winners made "one-sided" comments condemning Israel's war in Gaza at the awards gala, according to a government spokeswoman on Monday. 

"It is unacceptable that... the terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October was not mentioned," government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters in Berlin on Monday. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz "agrees that such a one-sided stance cannot be allowed to stand", Hoffmann said. 

"In any debate on this topic, it is of course important to keep in mind the event that triggered this renewed escalation of the Middle East conflict, namely the Hamas attack on 7 October," she said in comments that many see as betraying the German government's bias towards Israel. 

On Sunday after the ceremony, Berlin’s mayor Kai Wegner posted on social media that the anti-Israel remarks were "unacceptable", adding that "there is no place for anti-Semitism in Berlin". Hoffmann said Wegner and culture minister Claudia Roth would review the incidents and hold talks with the festival's incoming director to ensure such incidents did not happen in future. 

Israel's Channel 11 also aired a segment on Abraham and Adra’s award win, further adding to the division by titling a segment about Abraham's remarks as "The Israeli filmmaker's antisemitic speech".

"They sent me the Kan segment with the 'The Israeli filmmaker's antisemitic speech,' and at the same time I began seeing that on Instagram and Facebook, I'm getting dozens, if not hundreds, of anonymous messages like 'When you're back, we're waiting for you, you son of a bitch' and 'I'll hunt you down at the airport,'" Abraham said in an interview with Israeli news publication Haaretz

"Even though I'm a journalist and have often written things that are far more critical than what I said in the speech, never once did I experience anything like this. I never got such a severe reaction.  

“It was really scary. I was undecided whether I should return [to Israel] or not. In the end, I decided to delay my flight by a day. That's why I'm speaking to you from Greece. I'm scared. It's been super-stressful." 

Abraham and Adra have also met with support, as other prominent pro-Palestine voices praised the duo for using their platform to amplify the situation in Gaza.

Israeli veterans' organisation Breaking the Silence said in a post on X that the condemnation against the filmmakers was the “latest example of weaponizing antisemitism as a tool to silence critics.” 

UN Special Rapporteur Franchesca Albanese also took to X, as she referred to the stance as “peaceful (wholesome) resistance to oppression making history.” 

AFP also contributed to this report.