Minister Demands Israel Defund Exhibition for Including a Poem by Palestinian Poet Dareen Tatour

Culture Minister Miri Regev is upset an exhibition about censorship and freedom of expression includes an artwork that references the poem that landed a Palestinian poet in prison

Dareen Tatour upon her release from prison.
Rami Shllush

Culture Minister Miri Regev is demanding that the Finance Ministry refrain from funding a new exhibition in Jerusalem because it includes a poem by Dareen Tatour, which landed the poet in prison.

Tatour, 36, a resident of the Galilee village of Reineh, near Nazareth, was arrested in October 2015 after posting on social media, among others, a poem titled “Resist, my people, resist them.”

The exhibition, called ‘Barbarism,’ is slated to open on December 30 at the Mamuta Art and Media Center in Jerusalem’s Talbiya neighborhood. Produced by the Jerusalem municipality’s Culture Administration, together with the national lottery foundation, the exhibition explores the term freedom of expression and was born as a result of prolonged persecution of Israeli artists and institutions. It features multiple items, and Tatour’s poem is not presented as a stand-alone piece.

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The exhibition was curated following a court order for the closure of the Jerusalem Barbur Art Gallery, after the gallery hosted a lecture by the executive director of the Israeli veterans’ anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence. The exhibition features an archive of censorship, a collection of dozens of works that were censored and later sent to the exhibition’s organizers in response to an appeal to the public. Among the works will be creations by Michal Lazar, Hagit Keysar, Ariel Bronz, Meira Asher and Dareen Tatour.

Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev.
Mark Israel Salem/Pool

“All the works in this exhibition are ones that were taken down, muzzled, restricted, slashed, covered or rejected the moment they sought to see the light of day, at the bidding of institutional, family, religious, political or self censorship,” the curators wrote. They added that the curation process did not involve a choice, and that each and every piece that was sent to the exhibition is presented, accompanied by a text that relates the circumstances of its censorship.

The curators - Sagit Mezamer, Yehudit Schlossberg-Yogev, Eve Crystal, Nurit Drimer and Amir Bolzman - said that the archive will be shown in a locked room. “Visitors will have to sign a document stating that they are about to see sensitive content. The works will be numbered and there will be a file in which there are explanations about each item and the reasons it was censored.”

She adds that Tatour’s poem is part of a digital platform created by Meira Asher, in which people are “invited to create a sound work in any style which you see fit, using Dareen’s poem as your lyrical base.” Schlossberg-Yogev notes that the organizers stand behind the exhibit, but adds that they did not select the works shown in the censorship archive. “Some of these were self-censored. Some are by people who did not get into other exhibitions. There are between 30 and 40 works in this exhibition.”

In her letter to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Regev writes: “I appeal to you after finding out that the ‘Barbarism’ exhibition includes an open online initiative, created by a group of Israeli artists in response to the arrest of Dareen Tatour, who wrote the ‘hymn for terror.’ As is known to everyone, including the exhibition’s organizers, Tatour was declared a supporter of terrorism and was jailed. It is unseemly to make her and her poems a source of inspiration at an Israeli institution that is supported by state funds. It was shown that at least one of her poems has a dominant tone of supporting terror and a call for joining the ranks of the shahids [martyrs].”

The culture minister then asked Kahlon to “immediately employ the authority you have, based on the Nakba Law, and ensure that no public funds finance the artistic mouthpieces supporting shahids and the worst of our enemies.”

The law authorizes the Finance Minister to withhold public funds from institutions that negate Israel’s Jewish character.

However, Schlossberg-Yogev claims that Regev did not check the manner in which the poem is displayed. “We are trying to calm the spirits and explain how the poem is going to be presented. The poem is not shown on its own but as a link to a digital platform which is also part of the censorship archive project. We don’t express an opinion about the works displayed – we’re only charting the boundaries of censorship.”

However, after consulting the non-profit group’s legal adviser, Mamuta has decided to look into the matter again. “We are investigating whether there is a legal impediment to presenting the website in light of the criminal conviction associated with this poem,” said a source at Mamuta.

Along with the archive, the exhibition has three other focuses. One group of works is associated with ethical and political questions relating to freedom of expression. This includes a video called “no-confidence”, produced by the Sala-Manca Group, together with Amir Bolzman, reconstructing the speech given by the municipality attorney in the trial against the Barbur Art Gallery. The other focus is on specific instances of ‘Barbarian’ artists, ones who took risks or whose character challenges conventions, artists who paid or will pay a price for their art. The third group presents visual and textual representations of acts of barbarism or condemnation.

The Jerusalem municipality said in response that “we checked with organizers and determined that, in contrast to reports, the Tatour poem will not be on display. Another work that relates to it is in a closed archive and is not part of the works exhibited.”