After Israeli Arab Actor Refuses to Perform in Jordan Valley, Culture Minister Threatens to Cut Funds

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Norman Issa, right, in Haifa Theater's 'Boomerang.'Credit: Gerard Allon

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev threatened Tuesday to cut government funding from a Jaffa theater company over its co-founder refusal to perform in the Jordan Valley.

The Likud minister's announcement followed a report in the daily Israel Hayom that morning that Israeli Arab actor Norman Issa refused to perform in the Jordan Valley with the Haifa Theater show "Boomerang" for political reasons. In response, Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani threatened to cut ties with Haifa Theater unless it apologizes for Issa's announcement.

New Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev at the handing-over ceremony, May 17, 2015.Credit: Lior Mizrachi

Regev said she was "disappointed" to hear the news of Issa's refusal to perform in the Jordan Valley, saying his decision does not reflect the value of coexistence that he believes in and declares. "If Norman does not change his mind, I intend on reexamining my ministry's support for Elmina Theater, which operates under his management."

Issa said the pressure on him to perform in the Jordan Valley "borders on extortion."

"This is not a new issue, and the problem was solved years ago in all Israeli theaters, when it was decided that shows would be performed everywhere and if an actor, Jewish or Arab, is not prepared to perform there for ideological reasons, they will be replaced by another actor."

Issa said he advised Haifa Theater of his wishes four months ago, but that the theater has not yet found a substitute for the Jordan Valley shows.

"I am an Arab Israeli, married to a Jewish woman and raising a wonderful family. My wife and I devote all our lives to fulfilling co-existence between Jews and Arabs and it was to that end that we established the Jaffa theater. You cannot expect me to go against my conscience and agree to perform in controversial places Don't force me to act against my will just for the sake of removing this threat."

Issa recently became a permanent member of the national theater Habima's ensemble, where he is likely to be required to perform over the Green Line. The theater's spokesperson said, "Thus far we have not faced resistance among the theater's actors to performing over the Green Line. If and when we face such a request, we will discuss it. The national theater performs and intends on continuing to perform, throughout the country."

For its part, the Elmina Theater requested no connection be made between Issa's personal stance and the non-profit organization's activities. "We have no grounds on which to believe that the culture minister, Mrs. Miri Regev, will withhold support for Elmina Theater, which is a multi-cultural theater for Arab and Jewish children that meets all the criteria for government support."

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