boycott - Moti Milrod - Sept 3 2010
The soon-to-be-opened cultural center in Ariel. A statement by several actors refusing to perform there sparked a political firestorm. Photo by Moti Milrod
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"The vast majority of the Israeli public is fed up with the lunatic fringe that has gained control of Israeli theater and cinema," MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said on Saturday in response to a letter sent on Friday by dozens of theater figures to Be'er Sheva theater actors urging them to boycott the newly built arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Levin said he would initiate an emergency session of the Knesset Education Committee in order to set new criteria for support of cultural institutions, so that state funds would not go to boycotters.

"The new criteria will focus on promoting works that express our magnificent culture and heritage," Levin said. "It's time to put an end to taxpayer funds going directly into the pockets of fringe elements that use the funds to promote an anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish narrative while boycotting the public that finances them."

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who lives in the Ma'aleh Machmesh settlement, said that political leaders needed to inform the actors that Ariel is part of a settlement bloc that will remain part of Israel in any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The Be'er Sheva theater company is scheduled to perform in Ariel on the cultural center's opening night this week.

In September a group of theater actors and public figures signed a petition saying they would not perform in the new Ariel center as a protest of Israel's settlement policies. The protest was supported by over 150 academics.

"Ariel is not just another community," the letter sent on Friday said, stressing that the actors were about to perform in the cultural center that was erected in Ariel on occupied land. "Just several kilometers from the thriving and flourishing Ariel, Palestinians live in refugee camps, in harsh living conditions and without any basic human right. Not only are they not entitled to see performances in Ariel, some of them have no access to running water."

The letter added that the two contrasting realities of Ariel and the Palestinian refugees constituted "an apartheid nation."

Among the signatories of the current letter to the Be'er Sheva Theater are several prominent theater and culture figures such as film director Eitan Fux, artist and critic Yair Garbuz, television director and activists Doron Tzabari, theatre director Yehoshua Sobol and others.