Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat's implied support for keeping "Jenin, Jenin" director Mohammed Bakri off the Israeli stage must be condemned.
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Livnat was responding to a request by right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, which is calling on Livnat and the Tzavta Theater in Tel Aviv "not to grant a forum to this inciter, who defames Israel Defense Forces soldiers." Barki, a Palestinian director and actor, is scheduled to act in the Tzavta Theater's upcoming production of Federico Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba."
But the High Court of Justice ruled in a petition seeking to ban the 2003 movie "Jenin, Jenin" - about the April 2002 battle between IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants in the West Bank refugee camp - that although the film is full of lies that tarnish the image of the state and the IDF, it does not harm the reputation of any soldiers because it does not reveal their identities.
Bakri has never been charged with any offense related to the movie, and he was determined to have been within his legal rights in making it. His opinions may make a lot of people angry, but he is an actor, director and artist whose skills any cultural institution would be lucky to have at its disposal.
It is not legitimate to question whether Bakri - or anyone else whose opinions are considered by someone in power to be unacceptable - can perform in a play put on by a theater that receives funding from the Culture and Sports Ministry, and it is certainly none of the culture minister's business. Actors should be chosen only for artistic reasons. Such decisions are supposed to be made by the individual theaters or any other artistic body, as long as they are made completely freely and autonomously.
The fact that a theater gets funding from the Culture and Sports Ministry does not give the ministry, the minister who heads it, or any other bureaucrat involved in the budget allocation the right to intervene politically or in any other way.
The ministry did state that Livnat "expects the Tzavta administration to independently reconsider" whether Bakri should be hired, which seemingly lays the responsibility for ousting him at the theater's feet, but the comment does contain more than the hint of a threat. In addition, the statement clearly shows that Livnat does not understand that getting involved is an abrasive departure from her real job.
Perhaps Livnat should watch "The House of Bernarda Alba," about the forced imposition of rigid conservative norms and the violent infringement of freedom and human dignity. Then maybe she should independently reconsider.