Culture Ministry Removes Sponsorship of Dance Show Over Video Clips From B’Tselem

The show, 'Archive' by choreographer Arkadi Zaides, features materials filmed by human rights NGO contributors.

Daniel Bar-On

The Culture and Sport Ministry decided to end its sponsorship of the show “Archive” by choreographer Arkadi Zaides, which includes clips filmed by activists from the B’Tselem human rights organization. The ministry has asked Zaides to remove its logo from the show’s list of sponsors, as it violates ministry rules on having its logo appear alongside those of political organizations.

The show is scheduled to be performed at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv next week, on June 11 and June 12.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has spoken out in the past before her present appointment against the show, which was performed for the first time in 2014 at the Festival D’Avignon in Toulouse and in Paris. The show also made the headlines in the past because of attempts to have it removed from the Petah Tikva Museum and the website of the Israeli Embassy in London.

Shamai Glick, who was known as a right-wing activist and today works for the Channel 20 television station’s Internet site, has been working for a year against Zaides’ show. Glick, who says the show defames IDF soldiers, has told Haaretz that he is behind the approach to the Culture Ministry about the show.

The Culture Ministry has not confirmed it has made a decision as a result of Channel 20’s request. “In light of the numerous complaints received in our offices concerning Zaides’ activities, the Culture and Sport Minister has announced that she intends to hold a discussion to study the complaints, and as a result examine the continued support for [the show],” said the ministry.

Zaides, who is now appearing in Europe, confirmed that the Culture Ministry had approached him with a request to remove its logo from the list of bodies that support the show. “I will be happy to invite Minister Regev to the show and the discussion that takes place afterwards, so she can be made aware of the content involved and about which she is deciding,” he said.

The CEO of the Tmuna Theater, Ilan Rosenthal, explained that the Culture Ministry approached the theater on Sunday and had based its request to remove the logo on a circular from the ministry’s director general from the end of February, in which the ministry notes that its logo may not be used alongside those of political groups, or politically controversial groups such as B’Tselem. Rosenthal said he understood the ministry’s request to remove its logo, since it was based on clear written rules.

“But if I were at the top of the pyramid, I would make the ministry’s logo stand out, alongside the logo of B’Tselem, in order to show that we are a liberal and pluralistic country,” said Rosenthal.

He said the theater is only hosting the show and not supporting it financially, but “we examine only whether artworks are appropriate and well made, not their political tendencies. Art is not a court, there is no defense attorney and no prosecutor,” he said.

The performance itself is constructed from two parts: The first, a “video installation,” is called “Capture Practice.” It is a video art production with two screens, on which are shown clips from the Camera project of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. B’Tselem distributes free video cameras to Palestinian volunteers and trains them to document what it calls human rights violations and “expose the Israeli and the international publics to the reality of life under occupation.”

The second part of the performance is called “Archive.” This part includes Zaides’ response in movement and dance on the stage, as video clips from B’Tselem are projected in the background.

Glick said he is in favor of cancelling government support for this specific show, but not Zaides as an artist, “since I object to [shutting people up]. I also think he can continue to perform the show if it is proper and legal, but not with public funding.”

Zaides is a former member of the Batsheva Dance Company and an award-winning independent choreographer. He says he was deterred by the company’s apolitical stance and left it to create performances of a clear political character. In 2013, Zaides was awarded a prize by The Emile Zola Chair for Human Rights. In 2012 he received the prestigious Landau Award from the Israeli Lottery Foundation. In 2011, 2009 and 2008 he was awarded the Ministry of Culture and Sport prize for young artist of the year in the field of dance, and in 2010 he was awarded the prestigious Rosenblum Award, which is awarded annually by the city of Tel Aviv to encourage excellence in the arts.

Zaides has worked with a theater group in the Druze village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, and with the dance and movement studio of Rabeah Morkus in Kfar Yasif, an Arab village in Galilee. He has staged a work that investigates the connection between the contours of the separation fence and the contours of the human body. He also launched the “Moves Without Borders” project, in which influential avant-garde choreographers are invited to Israel for performances and workshops.

In response to the Israeli premier of Archive at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art a year ago, a Facebook group was established in protest, named “Mothers of soldiers against B’Tselem,” which was later closed. Glick also worked to have that exhibition closed down at the time using local figures to pressure the mayor, who later announced the show would close three days earlier than planned. A similar production by Zaides in Jerusalem last November sparked protests too. Before the last performance of Archive at Tmuna in January, security guards were hired for the event out of fears that protests at the theater could turn violent.

At the end of September 2014, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the link to Zaides’ website be removed from the site of the Israeli Embassy in London, and also ordered the ministry staff not to provide Zaides any further support in the future.