Israel's Culture Minister's War on Culture

Miri Regev proved once again that she has no interest in real dialogue with the country’s cultural institutions and its creators, and is hostile to those who engage in the creative arts

Miri Regev at the Haaretz Culture Conference, March 6, 2016.
Miri Regev at the Haaretz Culture Conference, March 6, 2016. Moti Milrod

Since assuming office, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has taken a confrontational stance towards artists and cultural institutions, using slogans like “cultural justice,” “freedom of funding,” and “transferring budgets from the center to the periphery.”

To those made frantic by her militant declarations, which portray – in almost total contrast to reality – all creators of culture in Israel as subverting the state’s character and values as a Jewish and democratic state, her supporters have explained that her remarks are meant to serve her in her party’s central committee and among her voters, and that fundamentally the minister has succeeded in making culture more prominent on the national agenda.

According to them, her ministry’s policies must be judged based on actions and not by her declarations.

But since then the Culture Ministry has published its proposals for changing the criteria for allocating the theater and periphery budgets, ignoring the objections of its own professional departments. Other proposals would constitute a fatal blow to independent artists by canceling the support for the independent choreographers association and the theater provided through the Rabinovich Foundation.

Culture Ministry director-general Yossi Sharabi told a roundtable discussion at Haaretz’s Israel Conference on Culture, held Sunday, that the ministry would not be undercutting the funding channels for independent art because it will establish foundations of its own to meet the needs of independent artists in dance and theater. But at this stage these are merely promises yet to be kept, while the announcements of funding cuts strengthen the impression that the Culture Ministry aims to restrict creative freedom and strong-arm artists through funding allocations.

Regev’s remarks at the opening of the conference, which were entitled “Cut the Bullshit” (her words), were a direct continuation of her previous declarations: a stress on distinguishing between “our” culture (without defining who “our” refers to), and “theirs.” Regev addressed the title of the conference, “Culture demands independence,” and argued, “Your culture doesn’t demand independence. Your culture demands exclusive funding. That’s your story. It’s the other culture, which for years was silenced and excluded – that’s what demands independence.”

It’s sad to realize that instead of assisting the world of culture, which is fighting for its life, the minister is preoccupied with disseminating divisive messages and shallow accusations.

In contrast to the effort of the Culture Ministry’s director-general to calm things, Regev proved once again that she has no interest in real dialogue with the country’s cultural institutions and its creators, and is hostile to those who engage in the creative arts. She has demonstrated a lack of grounding in the field and an absence of desire to understand and advance it, rather than destroy it.