Editorial

Israel's National Puppet Theater Heads to Settlements

Habima theater's consent to put on a show in Kiryat Arba is a 'moral stain worthy of condemnation.'

The West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, June 30, 2016.
The West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, June 30, 2016. Mussa Qawasma, Reuters

There’s nothing new in the desire of the settlers, Israeli citizens living in territories that are not the country’s sovereign territory, to normalize their residence there, one way being through their demand that cultural institutions supported by public funds perform for them in their communities.

For that purpose several cultural centers were built there, which can accommodate complete shows.

Nor is there anything new about the fact that the Israeli government is promoting the appearance of “normalization” in a situation that is far from normal, in occupied territories, where in effect there is an apartheid policy:

One population enjoys full rights while another lives under conditions of oppression. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) even signed regulations recently that enable her ministry to punish cultural institutions by denying them a part of their budget for not performing in the country’s periphery, and to provide incentives for those performing only in settlements.

Until now few plays by the supported public theaters were performed in the cultural centers of the settlements, and the managements of those theaters made sure that there would be substitutes for the few theater people who refused to perform there for reasons of conscience.

Since this activity is relatively marginal, they have refrained as far as possible from publishing declarations on the subject. At the same time, there is a considerable group of artists opposed to performing in the territories, and in addition there is evidence that such performances damage the foreign relations of Israeli theater.

What’s new in the case of the scheduled performance by the Habima National Theater in the cultural center of Kiryat Arba - a place that has become a symbol of the injustices of the occupation and the settlements - is the declaration published by the theater on the subject.

For the first time, the management of a public theater is publishing a declaration that also links the fact that it is a “national” theater to the idea that “we are interested in continuing to provide high-quality culture to all the citizens of Israel,” and also “rejects with repugnance any call to exclude citizens and to exclude communities, and condemns any attempt at a cultural boycott in any place where Israeli citizens live.”

In 1958 one reason why Habima received the title “national” from the Israeli government was to enable the government to provide financial support.

For over 20 years the theater has been mired in a financial and artistic crisis, and receives regular and special financial assistance, contrary to the rules of proper administration, as the State Comptroller remarked in a severe report.

The culture and sports minister recently established a committee to examine the significance of the “national” aspect of the theater, and she is regularly invited to its debut performances where she delivers speeches.

It’s clear that the theater is totally dependent upon the good graces of the government and the minister, even if its directors had a viewpoint regarding the morality of the settlements.

The fact that the government and the settlers are using culture and its institutions to put a kosher stamp on a politically and morally unacceptable situation is another expression of the self-righteous policy of “robbed Cossacks.”

The Habima management’s provocative consent to this is a moral stain worthy of condemnation.