Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced this week that his ministry will be awarding a new prize to artists in various fields who have contributed to promoting Jewish culture. The fields include theater, cinema, literature, dance and music, and there will also be a lifetime achievement award to someone who has “contributed significantly in the area of Jewish culture in Israel.”
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A sum of 150,000 shekels ($39,000) will be awarded to the recipients – double the amount given to those granted the prestigious Israel Prize.
The new prize will be administered by the Torah culture department of the Education Ministry.
According to Channel 2 News, Bennett said that “the awards were intended to express the appreciation of the Jewish people to those artists producing Jewish culture.”
Since 2011, the Culture and Sports Ministry, at the initiative of then-Minister Limor Livnat, has awarded prizes "reflecting Zionist values and history." The initiative came in response to a call by a number of artists to boycott performances in the West Bank city of Ariel a year earlier.
The Education Ministry's new move provoked an angry response from current Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.
“The granting of prizes to artists is clearly in the area of responsibility of the culture minister," she said. "I call on Minister Bennett to transfer the budget to the Culture Ministry, which is responsible for the matter. If Bennett does not do so, I will turn to the attorney general in order to determine whether this constitutes a double expenditure, which is illegal.”
The 50,000 shekel Culture Ministry prize for Zionist-oriented art is awarded to artists in six fields every year: literature, dance, cinema, theater, music and plastic arts.
The decision to award the prizes has stirred quite a bit of controversy and protest in recent years: A number of artists claimed they encourage art that supports government policies, and they signed a petition calling for the prizes to be discontinued and for the award money to be used instead to support free artistic expression in Israel.
Last year Livnat praised the winners for their “unique contribution to the fostering of the Zionist narrative.”