Israeli Cultural Institutions Convene Emergency Session After Cabinet Ministers Sanction Arab Theaters

'What must be addressed is the main point: the culture minister’s attitude to culture in general and the issue of silencing voices in particular,' culture forum chairman says.

Tess Scheflan

The representative body of Israel’s cultural Institutions said Wednesday it was convening an emergency session in the wake of recent sanctions by cabinet ministers on two Israeli Arab theaters.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the immediate removal of Haifa’s Al-Midan Theater’s production of “A Parallel Time” from the list of performances made available to Israeli schools, known as the “culture basket.” Also on Tuesday, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said she would cut state funding to Jaffa’s Elmina Theater unless its director, Normal Issa, reversed his refusal to perform in a Jordan Valley settlement.

“We call on all artists, writers, unions, cultural institutions and bodies to attend the convention in order to make their voices heard,” the Cultural Institutions Forum said in its announcement.

Forum members include museums, theaters, writers and music, dance and opera groups as well as the organizers of culture festivals. The organization’s chairman, Itamar Gourvitch, told Haaretz that the forum had decided not to respond to recent instances restrictions of artistic freedom, which also include the Culture and Sports Ministry’s withdrawal of sponsorship for choreographer Arkadi Zaides dance “Archive.”

“There is a great deal of disquiet in the field,” Gourvitch said. “What must be addressed is the main point: the culture minister’s attitude to culture in general and the issue of silencing voices in particular.”

The last time the forum called a similar meeting, with the participation of individual performers and creators in addition to member institutions, was in February 2014, when they came together to advocate for increasing allocations for culture to 1 percent of the state budget. Gourvitch, who is also chairman of the Israeli Theater Prizes nonprofit organization, said Regev’s attendance at the organization’s award ceremony next Friday, at which she is slated to speak and present one of the prizes, will not be affected by the disagreement.

Bennett said Tuesday he planned to meet with the chairwoman of his ministry’s repertoire committee, Bilha Blum, to discuss “A Parallel Time.” The committee voted unanimously on Monday to keep Bashar Murkus’ play in the culture basket. A member of the committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that the committee would probably meet on an informal basis next week to decide its next moves. He said most of the panel’s members were still deliberating over whether to resign from the committee in the wake of Bennett’s decision and were waiting until next week’s meeting in the hope of a collective decision.