The chairman of one of the committees established by the Education Ministry to determine which cultural works and performances will be approved for Israeli high schools confirmed Monday that the reviews of candidate works had begun.
Philip Rantzer, a visual artist who is head of the art workshops of the University of Haifa’s Department of Fine Arts, was speaking to the Knesset Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information, whose chairwoman is Knesset member Stav Shaffir.
“A few weeks ago we were briefed that the ministry was considering introducing three tracks, one of them red for disqualified works that may not be presented in schools,” said Rantzer. He heads the plastic-arts repertoire committee, one of six such panels. His remark contradicted comments on social media by Education Minister Naftali Bennett immediately after Haaretz reported on the creation of the red track about 10 days ago.
The transparency committee met to discuss the introduction of fundamental changes in the National Cultural Basket, a partnership between the Education Ministry, local governments and the Israel Association of Community Centers that began in the mid-1980s. It operates in 120 communities and reaches 35 percent of Israeli high-school students, exposing them to plays, films, music, literature, art exhibitions and dance performances and subsidizes ticket prices.
“They’ve been talking with us for six months about introducing a green track (for recommended performances) and a blue track (for works that were not evaluated),” Rantzer said. “A month and a half ago, Education Ministry representatives told the director of the cultural basket, who briefed us afterward, that there was a plan to introduce a ‘red track,’ consisting of works in all fields that prohibited, disqualified works.”
Rantzer added that the idea of a forbidden track is “hallucinatory” and that “no person of culture would approve such a thing. The real danger is the blue track, which is meant to weaken the influence of the expert committees.”
Bennett took to social media networks to deny the Haaretz report as soon as it was published. “I said this is garbage,” he tweeted. “We explained to them that it is 180 degrees the other way. It’s actually the current method that censors hundreds of plays,” he added on his Facebook page.
“In the past few weeks, much has been reported about a gross historic distortion in the civics book, about the intention to censor the cultural basket and to weaken the expert committees, about a change in allocating funding to pluralistic organizations and more,” Shaffir said, adding that while Bennett denied the reports, “it became clear from the information today that it was actually the education minster who misinformed the public. ... Concealing information and providing disinformation prevent serious debate on the issues most important to Israeli society. When there is no transparency, there is corruption, and there is no democracy,” Shaffir said.
Rantzer noted that the blue track bypasses the expert committees. “I am here because I have professional pride, and I consider myself an expert,” he said. “The cultural basket is a wonderful creation that serves all sectors. The rude gesture toward the committees is unfair because we came to contribute. The result of the blue track is that all kinds of bigwigs will enter the cultural basket’s track. The professional bodies will slowly disappear because the blue track will be not a bad alternative for all kinds of deprived people. The blue track is the most worrisome and the red is simply delusional.”
A representative of the community center association, Haya Reshef, said in the hearing that Haim Halperin, the director of the National Cultural Basket in the Education Ministry, told her Monday morning that the three-track program is not a done deal, and is in the experimental stage. Perhaps the ministry will reconsider, he said, according to Reshef.
The transparency committee also discussed the controversy surrounding a new high-school civics textbook. The book’s copy editor, Yehuda Yaari, did not attend the meeting but sent a statement. “After the ugly slander and ridiculous lies sunk themselves, it turns out that these are not old drafts ... there is no ‘extremist agent’ in ulterior motives,” wrote Yaari, who called the textbook after its release “scandalous” and “morally and factually wrong.”
“True, I was only a cleaning worker, but I discovered in faults in some of the train cars, and I saw it my duty to report on them, and I expected they would delay the train’s departure until those problems would be fixed, even if the station manager is angry,” Yaari said.
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