Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat proves that reality can be the basis for theater of the absurd. The performing artists' boycott of Ariel's new cultural center stirred Livnat into a spasm of activity. The refusal by theater and film people to sanction the occupation and settlement of the West Bank gave the minister an overdose of media exposure and whet her appetite to the point where she no longer settles for impassioned jingoistic declarations and with incitement against theater folk with a conscience. It was reported yesterday that Livnat issued a directive that would make state funding of cultural institutions conditional on their undertaking to perform anywhere in Israel - which, by her definition, includes Ariel.

Their passion for dispute is driving right-wing figures crazy. So far, not a single cultural institution has decided to boycott the hall in Ariel. Just the reverse; most theater managers announced that despite the refusal of a few actors to perform in Ariel they will fulfill their contracts with the center. A few of the managers identify with the idea that art transcends borders and political disputes. Others fear that the long arm of the state will reach into their pockets and harm their livelihoods.

A performance in the Ariel cultural center is like a performance in a Tel Aviv theater that only admits Jews. The only Palestinians who are allowed to enter Ariel are those from area communities who are lucky enough to obtain permission to clean the streets of the settlement. Threatening the livelihoods of artists for whom performing in a settlement violates their ethical worldview is a violation of these artists' freedom of expression and freedom of occupation.

The Zionist Art Award, another Livnat invention, demonstrates her lack of culture. By her criteria, the works of Amos Oz, David Grossman, Meir Wieseltier and Sami Michael are undeserving of an award. It's very doubtful that Israel's Declaration of Independence would pass Livnat's loyalty test.

If freedom of speech and the strength of Israel democracy are dear to the prime minister's heart, he must rein in the minister of culture.