Cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel
Cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel Photo by David Bachar
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Fifty-three Israeli theater professionals, including performers, playwrights and directors, have signed a petition stating they would not appear in the West Bank settlement Ariel.

The issue surfaced following a report last week in Haaretz that several of Israel's leading theater companies, including the Habima National Theater, the Cameri Theater, the Be'er Sheva Theater and Jerusalem's Khan Theater, were planning to perform at the new cultural center in Ariel.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said Saturday that the actors' protest was a serious matter, and was causing a rift in Israeli society. She called upon the theater managements to address the problem immediately.

"Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art," she said. "I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses."

In the petition, the performers said they would not perform in Ariel or any other West Bank settlement and called on Israeli theater managers to limit their activity to within the Green Line.

Signatories include prominent members of the Israeli theater community, including Yehoshua Sobol, Yossi Pollak, Yousef Sweid, Anat Gov and Savyon Liebrecht.

The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be'er Sheva theaters issued a collective response Saturday, stating: "The management of the repertory theaters will perform anywhere there are Israeli citizens who are lovers of Israeli theater, including the new culture center in Ariel. We will respect the political opinions of our actors. However, we will bring the best of Israeli theater to Ariel."

Signatory Shir Idelson, who is performing in productions at the Haifa Theater, told Haaretz: "I decided that I cannot go to peace demonstrations, and I am not involved in this on a day-to-day basis. I signed [the petition] personally and represent myself."

She added: "I grew up on the myth that culture could get things moving, and I'm sorry that it turned out that that's not how things are."

Idelson said she was moved that actors got up and took a stand.

"I won't perform [in settlements] even if it costs me my job," she said.

Veteran Israeli actress and Israel Prize winner Gila Almagor did not sign the petition, but said she would oppose performing in Ariel.

"I always opposed the occupation, and opposed appearing in areas beyond the Green Line. I won't go to places that are contrary to my worldview. But at the same time, I am an actress with the Habima National Theater. If the theater says 'you are required to perform,' then I have a contract with the theater and I will go and perform under protest."

With regard to her theater colleagues, she said: "We actors have discussed [this] among ourselves for several days. Behind every name [on the petition], there is a worldview and this needs to be respected. I wouldn't ask a religious actor to act on Shabbat. The theater needs to be considerate. Because everyone has an understudy, we have to speak with the management of the theaters to excuse actors who don't want [to participate]."

The Yesha Council of settlements issued a statement saying: "Our response to the letter signed by the army evaders and anti-Zionist left-wing activists will be very harsh," and called upon the theater managements to act decisively.

Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman told Haaretz Saturday: "I received a phone call from a donor in America who got so angry that he told me he had to do something on the matter. The problem is already not my problem. The problem belongs to the Israeli government and the Culture Ministry. Yehoshua Sobol can't say, 'I receive a salary from the state, but I have my conscience and do what I want.' You can't enjoy the benefits of both."