Culture Minister Threatens to Defund Top Israeli Culture Festival Over Nudity

Miri Regev cites ‘the basic values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,’ but the festival notes that it warns about any nudity, which in any case takes place in closed venues

A performance during the 2016 Israel Festival.
Jean Marie Legros

Culture Minister Miri Regev warned the Israel Festival on Tuesday that her office would defund any performances that included full frontal nudity, calling such displays “detrimental to the basic values of the Israeli public and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The festival opens Thursday in Jerusalem. In her letter to the festival’s chief executive, Eyal Sher, Regev appears to be referring to “And What Will I Do with This Sword?” by Spanish playwright Angélica Liddell and “Pindorama” by Brazilian choreographer Lia Rodrigues.

“I was surprised to hear that this year, too, there will be performances with full nudity as an integral part of the shows being offered to the Israeli public at the Israel Festival,” Regev wrote. “A performance in full nudity, even under the cover of art, is contrary and detrimental to the basic values of the Israeli public and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and hurts the feelings of the wider public.”

Regev said all people have the right to behave the way they want, and the festival has the right to make its own artistic choices. “I am not intervening as such. However, the state budget cannot be allocated to activities that harm the values of society and its identity,” she wrote.

“As is accepted in American law and in other countries, there is no connection between freedom of expression and creative liberty, which are important protected rights, and obliging the state to fund every creative work.”

Regev concluded with a demand that the performances containing full nudity be removed from the festival’s “funded” performances, and that they not be mentioned in the festival’s request for funding from her ministry. The Israel Festival received 2.2 million shekels ($618,000) from the Culture Ministry in 2015.

Although in previous years religious groups have protested festival performances containing nudity, the ministry has never demanded their removal.

Sher, for his part, sent a response back to Regev.

“As the minister remarked in her letter, the festival performances that have an element of nudity are indeed an integral part of the artistic program. Let’s stress that these events are concert-hall performances; that is, they do not take place in a public space that is open to everyone,” he wrote.

“And we clearly and conspicuously note in the program that they include nudity, precisely because we take into account that perhaps there are people who are not interested in these shows.”