Israeli culture minister threatens dissenting artists

Israeli culture minister threatens dissenting artists
3 min read
15 June, 2015
Artists protest after Miri Regev threatened to withdraw funding from artists and institutions that refuse to perform in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Regev's comments have angered many within the artistic community [Getty]
Hundreds of Israeli artists have protested after the Israeli culture minister threatened to withdraw funding from institutions that "delegitimise" Israel.

The artists were angered after Miri Regev discussed withdrawing funding from a theatre run by Arab Israeli actor Norman Issa and his Jewish wife at Jaffa Port.

She was reacting after Issa refused to take part in a performance of Haifa theatre's Boomerang production in the Jordan Valley, part of the occupied West Bank.

"If Issa does not withdraw his decision I intend to reconsider the ministry's support for the Elmina Theater which he manages," she said according to The Jerusalem Post.

During the meeting in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, the actor and director Oded Cotler compared voters for her ruling Likud party to "cattle" who risked being led meekly into a world where culture was silenced.

"Imagine your world silent, Ms Regev, without books, music, poems. A world where there is nothing to disturb the nation from celebrating thirty Knesset seats followed by a herd of animals eating their grass."

     The current law determining the criteria for funding artists and creative institutions does not include content.
Regev said Cotler's remark revealed the "ugly and snobby face of the speaker and of those in the audience that applauded in support".

Michael Gurevitch, the artistic director of the prestigious Khan theatre in Jerusalem, was greeted with thundering applause when he proposed a "strike of all cultural institutions" in case of any censorship, which he said would internationally damage Israel's image.

Others, such as prominent lawyer Eli Zohar, who is also the chairman of the Gesher theatre, called for talks with Regev.

On Saturday, Regev reiterated on her Facebook page that, alongside her intention to encourage cultural activities across Israeli society, "the border should be clear - I won't support cultural institutions that delegitimise and advance boycotts on Israel."

Gurevitch said there could be no dialogue with Regev as long as she sought to influence the content of artworks.

"I don't think we need to talk with her about the content," he told AFP.

"The first thing she said when taking the position was 'if I see an artistic work that harms or delegitimises the state, I will censor it'."

"She can't determine what harms the state's security," he said.

Gurevitch said the current law determining the criteria for funding artists and creative institutions does not include content.

The meeting of artists took place on Sunday after an online petition of "creators and people of culture from all fields of artistic activity" gathered nearly 3,000 signatures.

"We protest the anti-democratic measures taken in recent weeks by government ministries against creators and people of culture whose works or stances do not conform with those of the ministries," it read.

Regev responded: "The signatories don't know me, haven't heard me and know nothing of my plans. It's somewhat uncultured to make hysterical declarations of potential McCarthyism, which have no real foundation."

Itamar Gourvitch, head of the forum of cultural institutions, who organised Sunday's meeting, told AFP it ended without a resolution.