Israeli Cultural Groups Hosting Pupils Will Have to Be Willing to Appear in Settlements

Education Minister Bennett unveils far-reaching new ‘culture basket’ for schools, including settlement clause and bans content encouraging or advocating terror or harm to the foundations of the State of Israel.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, December 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

Beginning next school year, the great majority of cultural institutions hosting class outings will have to agree to be willing to perform anywhere in the country – including West Bank settlements – according to the far-reaching new “culture basket” system unveiled Thursday by Education Ministry Naftali Bennett.

This new condition comes in the wake of a multiyear power struggle between the Netanyahu government and publicly-funded artistic groups that did not want to perform in the settlements for political reasons.

The new culture basket also transfers most of the authority for choosing cultural outings from ministry experts to school principals. It further sets up a new ministry committee to take complaints from principals, parents and pupils about cultural programs that might be seen to contain “pornographic content, encouragement of violence, a racist component, advocating terror or harm to the foundations of the State of Israel.”

The new basket also increases the number of local authorities participating in the basket, from 100 to 170, with the number of students involved growing from 500,000 to 800,000, according to ministry estimates, with most of the growth coming in poorer communities in the periphery. The choice of films, plays, exhibitions, shows and meetings offered to the schools, which until now numbered about 1,200, will increase to some 6,000, the ministry added.

In line with this expansion, the annual budget for the culture basket will rise from 16 million shekels (about $4 million) a year to 22 million.

According to the new plan, the list of performances and trips in the culture basket will be changed to include offerings that were not reviewed and chosen by the ministry’s repertory committees. School principals who participate in the initiative will choose between the two lists – the one offered by the repertory committees and the “open” one. They will have to choose 30 percent from the experts’ list and 70 percent from the open list.

The open list, unfiltered by the repertory committees, will include suggestions to principals for class outings from production companies, writers, publishers and other cultural institutions.

The conditions for joining the list will be proper administration, a commitment to perform anywhere, suitability for schoolchildren and a maximum price.

“From now on principals have more autonomy, and we believe in Israel’s principals and are creating a balance,” Bennett said at a news conference. “We are still preserving the artistic aspect and 30 percent will go through the repertory committees. The committees looked at artistic quality and not at other educational values that we want to advance. The principals will have a website for posting their insights and criticism of the shows they saw and took their students to see, and in that way they’ll be able to use crowd wisdom.”

Bennett compared the new database to popular Internet film-review sites. “Today when I want to see a film I go to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB,” said Bennett, “and I get both the opinion of the leading The New York Times critics and the audience rating. If I’m in the mood for something more cultural then I’ll go with the critics, if I’m in the mood to clear my head I’ll go for something that the audience really likes and the critics less so.

“In the school system until now, if those critics didn’t like something, the students couldn’t go to it at all. Today everything is open using the approach of Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB, but one offering that was recommended by the critics will be mandatory.”

Until now, school principals have had the prerogative of sending students on cultural outings that are not approved by the ministry experts, and paying for them out of the school budget. However, schools from economically poorer local authorities found it more difficult to do so.