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The Education Ministry has promised to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by an association of children and youth theaters regarding the operation of the organization that subsidizes performances in schools. The Association for Children and Youth Theaters and Performance Art claims that the activities of the state's National Culture Basket lack professional, egalitarian and transparent criteria.

The association is threatening to suspend its cooperation with the organization, starting next school year, in September, unless these alleged problems are corrected. The head of the NCB, Bruria Becker, rejects the association's claims.

The National Culture Basket is a cooperative program between the Education Ministry, the Israel Association of Community Centers and local governments. According to Becker, who has headed the NCB since its inception about 20 years ago, the project has an annual budget of NIS 40 million, some 75 percent of which comes from the municipalities and from the school fees paid by parents. It operates in about 120 communities, affecting a total of approximately 600,000 schoolchildren. The NCB offers films, concerts, plays and dance performances to participating schools, all at subsidized prices.

The association, whose many members include the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth and the National Youth Theater, said in a letter written by its chairwoman, Rivka Fishfeld, sent last week to Culture Minister Gideon Sa'ar, that NCB was created "in order to subsidize cultural activities for Israel's schoolchildren, not to act as a cultural commissar that supervises, in a blatant, unpleasant and patronizing manner, those who labor to create culture for the children of Israel."

Fishfeld claims that the organization rejects plays in an "arbitrary and prejudicial manner, without explanation and without relying on known criteria." She also said the NCB's pricing policy is "arbitrary and sometimes devoid of all factual explanation."

Becker said in a response, "The association apparently doesn't understand our purpose, which is to mediate between students and the arts, not just to subsidize performances."