Yehiel Hazan used to be a man of some standing in the settlement city of Ariel. In 1983, he was the deputy mayor who signed construction permits for the city's cultural center. Since then he has run a popular shwarma business, represented the city in the Knesset, attempted to tamper with the voting panel of an absentee MK and embarked on a business career.
Yesterday, harking back to his youth, Hazan arrived at the cultural center's inauguration. Nursing a glass of cava, the former MK stood a little aside from the crowd and let admiring residents bring the compliments to him. "The cultural center was being built for 20 years," a slightly blushed Hazan told Haaretz. "Thank God it's become another phase in the building of the city. We'll stay here forever, defending you back in Tel Aviv."
A short distance away, in a swarm of media crews from the world over, were Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman and Culture Minister Limor Livnat in a mushroom-like dress.
The rest of the crowd could roughly be divided into two sections: Immigrants from the former Soviet Union who couldn't really understand what the fuss was about, and members of the founders' group of the settlement, hunting for cheeks to kiss and microphones to grab.
Rivka Buksbaum, an Ariel resident of 26 years, told a German television crew: "The lefties can burst for all I care. My kids serve in the army, not like the lefties' kids."
Before the curtain was raised, Nachman and Livnat took the opportunity to push their doctrine. Speaking to the accompaniment of rhythmic hand claps, the mayor said: "We are opening the only hall between Petah Tikva and Amman. I decided there will be a cultural center here over 20 years ago. Culture is the memory of the nation. A city without culture is a city without a soul. I want to thank the Be'er Sheva Theater. It's not surprising our first performance comes from Be'er Sheva, city of Abraham, and not Tel Aviv, which used to be a Philistine city."
"I'm embarrassed," confessed the culture minister. "As someone who grew up in a home full of music, theater and poetry, I fulfill my duty as culture minister with pride, joy and love. I'm proud of our country, the only one in our area that has artistic freedom and freedom of expression for all. And this is why I am sorry and embarrassed by the manifestly anti-democratic move taken by those pretending to act on behalf of these freedoms. Any artist, any writer, any dancer, any playwright, even one who become a politician, can speak, demonstrate and protest. But there's one thing we cannot agree to: Israeli citizens should not be boycotted. It's not cultural."
The curtain will rise for the first time at 8:45 this evening, but the real show will begin six months from now: In May, the center is set to host Shmuel Hasfari's play "Havdalah." The playwright has already said that he will sue. A month later, the center is due to host "The Road to Damascus," the cast of which includes two signatories of the boycott letter. Prepare the stage for pompous speech-making.
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