Israel: Artists up in arms over remarks by Culture Minister

22 June 2015


Israel’s new Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev sparked a furore when she threatened to defund a children theatre managed by an Arab Israeli if he refused to perform in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli artists and leading cultural figures gathered Sunday 14 June 2015 to try and consolidate an approach against Culture Minister Miri Regev’s declared intent to withdraw support from institutes that ‘delegitimize’ Israel, a move critics say would amount to censorship.

Hundreds of cultural icons crammed into a performance venue in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, to discuss a joint response after Regev sparked a furore last week when she threatened to defund a theatre managed by an Arab Israeli if he refused to perform in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The debate was also fired up by Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent decision to overrule a professional committee and pull an Arab play from a state-funded educational program.

But Regev was the main focus of the ire of many speakers at the event, including stage actor Oded Kottler who compared the people who had voted for her ruling Likud party to ‘cattle’ who risked being led meekly into a world where culture was silenced.

Chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council Dr. Haim Perluk told reporters that the reason for the decision was a question over “funds that the theatre’s managers did not know how to explain their source.”

Dozens of artists joined a petition against the two ministers, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The petition is titled ‘The Black List’ and states:

“We, female and male artists – filmmakers, writers, actors, musicians, choreographers and dancers, directors, scriptwriters, producers and cultural figures – are protesting the undemocratic steps taken in recent weeks by the Culture and Education ministries against artists and cultural figures whose work or views don’t match the spirit of these ministries. We would like to tell you that we will continue facing reality, expressing our opinion and obeying our conscience, even if you claim a price from us for it.”

» Today Online and Variety – 22 June 2015:
Israel’s new culture minister booed as censorship debate escalates
“The battle between Israel’s artists and its outspoken new culture minister continued to escalate this weekend, as a small group of protesters gathered outside a Tel Aviv theatre with tape across their mouths to protest her repeated vows to censor voices that defame the Jewish State.”

» RT – 21 June 2015:
Arab theater turns to EU for help after Israel refuses to subsidize play ‘tolerant to terrorists’
“Israel’s largest Arab theater plans to turn to the EU for financial aid after Israel said it would no longer sponsor the play about a Palestinian man who killed an IDF soldier, alleging it represents “tolerance of the murder,” local media reported.”

» Arab News – 20 June 2015:
Netanyahu aide: Artists ‘petty bores’
“Israel’s culture minister, who has clashed with the country’s artistic elite over accusations of censorship, has further fueled the dispute by calling some of them “petty bores” and “hypocrites.””

» The Times of Israel – 16 June 2015:
Culture minister defunds Arab theater hosting controversial play
“Citing financial irregularities, Miri Regev withholds state money from Al-Midan in Haifa over production based on terrorist who abducted and killed Israeli soldier”

» Haaretz – 16 June 2015:
Minister Miri Regev – Netanyahu’s knight of cultural chauvinism
“Culture Minister Regev highlights how desperately Israel needs leaders who understand that a liberal democracy is not just majority rule but also the defense of minority rights and the freedom of thought and speech.”

» +972 Magazine – 15 June 2015:
Israel’s culture minister is turning artists into enemies
“Miri Regev’s attempts to pull funding from artists who ‘delegitimize’ Israel expose the lengths to which this government will go to try and silence its critics.”

» YNet – 14 June 2015:
Tensions mount between artists and Ministers Bennett, Regev
“Dozens of Israeli actors, filmmakers, writers, musicians and choreographers sign petition to protest the ‘undemocratic steps taken by the Culture and Education ministries against artists and cultural figures’ and vow to ‘continue expressing our opinion and obeying our conscience.’ Minister Regev responds: There is no silencing, there is democracy.”

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