Artists Hold Emergency Sessions against Culture Minister

June 14, 2015  

Hundreds of Israeli artists took part Sunday in emergency sessions at Yafo (Jaffa) Port and at the Haifa Port to protest what they claim are illegitimate decisions by the new government affecting their freedom.

About 20 leading artists delivered speeches in the sessions, including veteran actress Gila Almagor, musician Hanan Yovel, and representatives of the cinema and and dance worlds.

The message they sent Regev was a mixed one. They reportedly intend to deliver a summary of the sessions to the new culture minister, Miri Regev (Likud), in which they will ask to work in complete cooperation with her. At the same time, many of them delivered insults and told her she had no business telling them what to do with the funds they receive from the government.

Regev is a nationalist Mizrahi Jew, often ridiculed by satirists for her direct style and alleged lack of sophistication. Artists were shocked several weeks ago when they learned that of all people, she would be placed in charge of the Culture Ministry, and they are still reeling. Regev’s threat last week to stop funding a Arab-run theater troupe whose co-director refused to perform in the Jordan Valley sent the artists into an even greater state of panic.

Actor Oded Kotler was less than gentlemanly when he said: “This is the time to raise our heads in the face of the bestialization that rules our streets and tell Mrs. Regev – ‘Cool down.’ We will not let you work hard, we will not let you create instead of us, we will not let you tell us what to do and how to do and what not to do.”

“The great concern is that they are trying to turn us into servants of the regime,” actor Moshe Ivgi said before the emergency sessions. “We are not like that,” he explained, according to Channel 2’s website. “Art and culture need to operate in complete freedom. Content must remain outside the purview of the Culture Ministry.”

The artists were not monolithic, however. Unlike most of the speakers, Beit Lessin Theater owner Tzipi Pines predicted that a dialogue with Regev would have good results and said that no one had tried to stifle the artists. Actor-director Shlomo Vishinsky also expressed confidence in Regev and said, “It’s not like they’re portraying it. If Regev succeeds, we succeed.”

The artists targeted Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Minister Regev over their recent decisions to impose sanctions on two Israeli Arab theaters.

Bennett declared last Tuesday that he was removing the Al Midan Theater’s play, “A Parallel Time,” on the life of the terrorist who murdered IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, from the ministry’s culture basket, thereby suspending its government subsidies.

Later that same day, Regev announced she would “reconsider” state funding to the Elmina Theater, after manager Norman Issa refused to participate in a play in Judea and Samaria.

Petition against ‘blacklist’

Three hundred artists from the film, theater, dance, literature and music industries signed a letter Sunday, “protesting the non-democratic measures taken by the Education and Culture Ministries against artists whose creative works or outlooks do not jive with the spirit in these offices.”

“We will continue to look at reality, to express our opinions and obey our consciences even if we must pay a price,” the artists stressed.

“We will fight against every threat. We will not censor or sterilize our creations because of terrifying laws, intimidation and threats. We will not hide and we will not lower our profile.”

“We the undersigned are the voices you wish to silence,” the artists fired to conclude their letter. “We hope with all our hearts that Israel does not deteriorate and become a country in which artists who express their views are put on a ‘blacklist.'”

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