Israeli minister sparks a real-life drama for country's artists

GMT 18:46 2015 Wednesday ,17 June

Arab Today, arab today Israeli minister sparks a real-life drama for country's artists

L-R: Minister of Sports and Culture Miri Regev
Tel Aviv - AFP

Never shy of the spotlight, Culture Minister Miri Regev has become the inadvertent star of Israel's latest drama, sparking a chorus of criticism by threatening to cut funding for a children's theatre.

Regev, a former army general not known to shirk confrontation, has angered many of the country's leading cultural figures by taking on the theatre in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv.

Its director, Norman Issa, an Arab-Israeli, had refused to appear as an actor in another troupe in performances before Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, prompting Regev to intervene.

On the same day, Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced that a play by an Arab theatre troupe in the northern city of Haifa would be removed from a list of those receiving subsidies for performances for students.

The plot of Al-Midan's production of "Parallel Time" has close similarities to the life of Walid Daqqa, a Palestinian serving time for the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier.

Nor did the trouble for Al-Midan end there. On Tuesday, Regev announced an examination of the theatre's books to look into the possibility of alleged accounting irregularities.

The minister said a probe would also take place into possible communications between the theatre and Daqqa.

The moves have led some of the country's best known cultural figures to accuse the government of seeking to muzzle art it does not like and stamp out dissent.

"She can't determine what harms the state's security," Michael Gurevitch, artistic director of the prestigious Khan Theatre in Jerusalem, said of Regev at a protest rally over the weekend.

Hundreds of actors, producers, singers and other cultural figures gathered at the rally in Jaffa on Sunday to discuss ways of rewriting the government's script.

Gurevitch sparked applause when he proposed a "strike of all cultural institutions" in the event of any censorship.

The government however says it has no obligation to continue to finance drama and art that it claims undermines state security -- and even argues that it has a duty to stop it.

"The border should be clear -- I won't support cultural institutions that delegitimise and advance boycotts on Israel," Regev said, seeking to link the theatres to a boycott movement calling for an end to occupation of Palestinian territories.

- Chief Censor -

For the minister's critics, her moves are not entirely out of character. As part of her career in the military, 50-year-old Regev also served as the army's chief censor in 2004-2005.

She has come to symbolise for some a rightward shift by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a divide among Israelis in general.

The government in place following March elections is seen as one of the most rightwing in the country's history.

Regev signalled that she felt emboldened to take such measures after the vote, which saw her party draw support from conservative voters.

"We got 30 Knesset seats. You got a total of 20," she reportedly told representatives from cultural institutions in a meeting last week, referring to the 30 parliament seats won by Netanyahu's Likud party, though underestimating the 24 seats held by the main opposition Zionist Union.

"We know that the left attributes culture to itself; we don't need to get confused about who the public is and who the public chose."

At the same time, some question how Regev will put her words into action, noting that changes in the law or court challenges will be needed to alter theatre financing.

An online petition supporting the artists' position has meanwhile garnered nearly 3,000 signatures, though Regev remained unimpressed.

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

On Sunday, actor Oded Kotler may have indeed played the role cast by Regev with comments that drew fire from across the political spectrum.

Kotler compared Likud voters to "a herd of straw and cud-chewing cattle" and was forced to backtrack.


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