Habima Bailout Stalls as Theater Trades Barbs With Repertory Rivals

The total debt currently slated for cancellation is NIS 20 million; there is also talk about state aid to Habima in an arrangement to cover debts to suppliers, amounting to NIS 14 million.

Zipi Shohat
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Zipi Shohat

Efforts to get the Habima National Theater back to financial health are stalled as Habima people blame the repertory theaters for the delay in talks with the finance and culture ministries.

The repertory theaters, meanwhile, have banded together and threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, asking for a bailout from their debts as well. That's only fair, they say.

Habima, Israel’s national theater, in the center of Tel Aviv. New building, same financial problems.Credit: Yuval Tebol

As the Habima National Theater gears up to move into its renovated building in September, no agreement has been signed with the ministries for help and/or cancellation of Habima's deficit, which has soared to about NIS 42 million.

"There's a serious disturbance here by the other theaters in the negotiations," said Habima co-executive director Odelia Friedman yesterday.

Artistic director Ilan Ronen added: "We met with Noam Semel, the Cameri's executive director, and said to him, 'You're damaging Habima and the other theaters. This is a wrong kind of struggle, because down the road everyone is going to suffer from it. We're partners, we have joint productions - why are lawyers threatening us on the eve of our entry into the building? This is a sword dangling over us.' As of now, we haven't seen any sign he has changed his mind about his intention to petition the High Court of Justice."

According to Habima Chairman David Boaz, "I closed the details of the agreement back in the middle of May, and since then I haven't seen any agreement or draft agreement. I don't want to go into details of the arrangement, but I can say there was agreement on everything connected to Habima's cash flow. A month ago I would have told you we were very close to signing, but it's taking them a lot of time to understand, internalize and implement."

Haaretz has learned that in question is the cancellation of most of the debt on a loan the state gave Habima in 1995, amounting to about NIS 25 million. The total debt currently slated for cancellation is NIS 20 million.

There is also talk about state aid to Habima in an arrangement to cover debts to suppliers, amounting to NIS 14 million.

In any case, there will be no Habima management changes in the near future, despite the rumors about candidates' names. According to Boaz, the board is not discussing management issues at the theater. "You don't change horses in midstream, and this is until the arrangement is completed and the theater returns to the building," he said.

According to the Culture Ministry, "All these things are baseless. Representatives of the finance and culture ministries and the Habima board are now in the final stages of the joint working process aimed at reviving the theater. There has been no delay in the agreement's progress, and certainly not by the Culture Ministry. In any case, the Culture Ministry believes it is not proper at this stage to give details about the contacts between the sides. When they are completed, as usual, a detailed statement will be released.

Despite the delays, the next two seasons at Habima are planned, with plenty of box-office stars on tap. Ronen says there will not be an opening production; rather, repertory productions will test the renovated building's halls.