Ariel- Moti Milrod
The cultural center in Ariel just before it opened. The theater is at the center of the controversy. Photo by Moti Milrod
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A proposal by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat to make government financial support for cultural institutions conditional on their agreement to appear anywhere under Israeli control, including over the Green Line, is expected to win approval from the National Council for Culture and the Arts within the next few months.

All the same, the council's theater division decided yesterday to postpone discussion of the matter.

The proposal comes as several local artists have announced a boycott of a newly opened arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel to protest Israel's settlement policies. Ori Levy, the head of the theater division, said the delay was part of an effort to let the controversy fade before the issue was brought up for discussion. He said he doesn't see any reason for the proposal to be shot down.

"I decided to let the fire die down and discuss it at a later time," he said. "As chairman, I have the privilege of putting issues on the agenda. There's no rush to discuss it now, since all the criteria that we set now, including the change that the minister suggested, will be able to go into effect only after January 2011."

Providing an example of the extent to which that fire appears to still be raging, settler leader Danny Dayan yesterday compared Israeli actor, director and comedian Assaf Harel to a skinhead whose statements give off "a heavy odor of racism" after Harel implied the residents of Ariel were not cultured enough to appreciate the kind of performances the city is trying to attract.

"Our audience isn't in the settlements," Harel told Army Radio yesterday. "That's an audience whose culture lies somewhere between the Bible and the rifle."

"It can't be that the government will intervene in artistic content, just as they do in fascist regimes," said Harel.

But though some artists are upset about Livnat's proposal, it appears ready to slide through without opposition.

The 14-member theater division of the National Council for Culture and the Arts has already issued a unanimous call for all theaters to put on shows in Ariel, a statement it put out after nearly 60 theater professionals announced in August that they would refuse to perform there.

It called on theaters "to continue with their plans and to perform everywhere where there is a need for Israeli culture in general and the theater in particular."

"The division thinks that any attempt to delegitimize the residents of Ariel, which was established by cabinet resolution in 1978, and whose residents are members of the entire political spectrum, damages pluralism and the right of every citizen to consume culture," it said in the statement.

Before Livnat's proposal can go into effect, the theater division must submit its recommendation to Livnat and the recommendation must be approved by the National Council for Culture and the Arts, which is headed by Haim Farlock, a Livnat loyalist whom she twice appointed to the post. The wording may then be tweaked and it will be made public, after which it goes back to the theater division and to Livnat for signing.