Culture Minister to Meet Ariel Arts Center Boycott Organizers

Hundreds of theater actors and public figures have signed petition against performing in new Ariel arts center as a protest of Israel's settlement policies.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, a vocal critic of a recent artists' boycott on the newly opened arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, plans to meet some of the ban's organizers, Haaretz learned on Monday, in what could be the first reconciliatory step amid a flurry of incendiary remarks from both camps.

Limor Livnat at Ariel Nir Kafri 8.11.2010
Nir Kafri

In September, a group of theater actors and public figures signed a petition saying they would not perform in the new Ariel arts center as a protest of Israel's settlement policies.

The protest has been supported by over 150 academics who signed the petition.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had said that he would act against the boycotting artists by halting direct funding of their travel expenses for shows abroad and by preventing their appearances before state bodies.

More recently, a group of leading Israeli film and television artists have also signed onto an online petition supporting the right of theater actors to refuse to perform in the newly opened arts center.

Speaking earlier this month, Livnat severely criticized the moves, saying the boycott, which she called a "recycled attempt of a handfull of people to boycott the people of Ariel is wrong."

"The residents of Ariel are equal citizens of Israel and they are entitled to cultural rights just like anyone else in the country," Livnat had said at the time.

However, on Monday Haaretz learned that Livant was to meet some of the boycott's organizers, at the encouragement of Dimona mayor Meir Cohen and other members of the national local councils' governing body.

Livnat indicated she would attend the meeting, planned for 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, and which is scheduled to take place during a meeting of the local councils' culture committee.

The meeting will also be participated by prominent artists' representatives, such as head of Israel's actor's association, Dvir Bendek, head of the writer's association , Liora Kamintzky and Rani Blair, who serves as the head of the director's union.

Cohen, who mediated the meeting, said he was positive that "through dialogue we can find solutions and stop boycotts on either side."

Meanwhile, the actors and academics circulated a second petition calling to boycott the recently opened center in Ariel writing, "we, the undersigned, express our concern and fears regarding Culture Minister Limor Livnat's initiative to force actors and artists to perform in the settlement against their will – while simultaneously hand out awards to what she refers to as Zionist works."

"A country in which awards are handed out to artists whose works reflect the government's ideological and political views, while those who dare object to those political views are punished severely, will find it difficult to claim that it is a democratic country," the petition added.