Culture Minister Regev attacks artists, exposes Israel’s censorious culture policy

A petition signed by 2,000 Israeli artists has exposed the censorious instincts of the Israeli state, epitomised by its new Culture Minister Miri Regev.

A war of words between Israel’s new Culture Minister Miri Regev and a group of leading Israeli artists continued yesterday over budgetary allocations and allegations of censorship.
 Regev, who was appointed to the culture and sport portfolio in Israel’s new government, is considered a vocal firebrand leader in the right-wing of the Likud Party. Earlier this month, she warned that she would review funding of cultural initiatives and would not necessarily support those which she believes delegitimize the State of Israel.
The only Palestinian theatre company in Israel, Al-Midan, had its funding frozen this week because ministers disapproved of its latest play.

naftali bennett Jack Guez AFP Getty Images

Naftali Bennett: ‘The question here is whether the Ministry of Education should pay for schoolchildren to go see a play that shows sympathy to a murderer and a terrorist … and my answer is no.’ Photo credit: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier in the week the Guardian reported the claim by prominent artists that they are being silenced for holding views that do not agree with those of government ministers.
The Guardian said:

More than 2,000 Israeli artists have signed a petition warning against what they call anti-democratic measures being taken by the government against freedom of expression.The petition, which includes the signatures of prominent figures from film, theatre, cinema, dance, literature and music, claims artists are being silenced for views that do not fall in line with those espoused by the new government’s ministers.

“We, the signatories below, are the voices you are trying to silence. We hope that Israel will not deteriorate into a country in which artists that express their views are put on a ‘black list’.”

The petition was launched after the newly installed minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, announced she would re-examine the criteria for state funding of the arts.

At a meeting with representatives of cultural institutions on Thursday, Regev said that because her Likud party had received 30 seats in the Knesset [parliament], she had the legitimacy to decide how to allocate the funds. “I decide the criteria; I can decide which institutions get money,” she said. “The government doesn’t have to support culture. I can decide where the money goes. The artists will not dictate to me.”

A day earlier, Regev threatened to cut government funding for the Elmina Theater in Jaffa because its manager, the Israeli-Arab actor Norman Issa, refused to perform in a settlement in the Jordan Valley with the Haifa Theater troupe of which he is a member.

The petition was also a response to last week’s decision by the education minister, Naftali Bennett, to stop performances for high-school students of a play by the al-Midan Theater in Haifa entitled A Parallel Of Time, which tells the story of Walid Daka’s time in prison for torturing and murdering the Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

“The question here is whether the ministry of education in Israel should pay for schoolchildren to go see a play that shows sympathy to a murderer and a terrorist,” Bennett told the Associated Press, adding, “and my answer is no.”

Responding to the petition on Sunday, Regev said “The signatories do not know me. It’s a bit uncivilised to make frightening statements about potential McCarthyism that are entirely baseless.”

Supporters of Regev and Bennett claim that Israelis should have the freedom to create art as they please, but if it is disparaging to the state, there is no reason why it should be state-funded.

Among the signatories on the petition are the actor Gila Almagor, dancer, choreographer and BatSheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin and author Yehonatan Gefen.

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