Israel has so many interesting stories and the only thing Israeli artists talk about is the occupation, said Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev at a press conference on Tuesday in the northern port city of Acre. “Enough is enough,” she said.
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Regev spoke to the media after eight theater groups decided to withdraw from the Acre Fringe Theater Festival after a play about Palestinian prisoners in Israel, Einat Weitzman’s “Prisoners of the Occupation,” was removed from the program by the festival’s steering committee.
“There are so many fascinating stories in Israeli society and all the time to bring the story of the occupation, occupation and occupation. It’s enough,” said Regev.
Regev complimented Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, saying that as the chairman of the festival committee he made the correct decision, even without speaking to her, and “gave expression to the sane voice represented in the government. Weitzman talks about prisoners with blood on their hands, terrorists who murdered children and women only because they were Jews, and I need to give them a stage paid for by the public? It’s delusional, in my opinion,” said Regev, insisting that such organizations and institutions should not receive public funds. “Freedom of incitement is not freedom of expression.”
Weitzman can stage her play in Ramallah, in the occupied territories, added Regev.
She told Lankri that she had come to Acre to tell him that the fringe theater festival would be held only in Acre and that “no one will break us.” Regev said her ministry would strengthen the festival and provide incentives to produce theater and a high-quality festival, as they have done in the past. “Radical people who act against Israeli society cannot dictate to us what type of theater it will be. Theater must be critical and we don’t have a problem with that, but [it must] not undermine the State of Israel and allow the glorification of terrorists.”
Regev called on young artists to cooperate with her ministry and not follow the “radical group.”
Lankri also lashed out against the “radical group whose opinion was not accepted and is inciting an entire community of artists not to participate in the festival this year, in the name of freedom of expression.” They are afraid of their loss of status as the sole authority for theater and the time has come for young artists to understand they are being led astray, he continued. “The rule of the radical junta has ended. With great love I invite young artists to ignore those archaic artists and participate in the festival,” said Lankri.
The mayor also lamented the fact that most of this year’s plays — 170 in total — neglected other subjects, such as Ethiopians, women, settlers, new immigrants, religious people and the needy, even though the festival guidelines had urged artists to address those subjects.
He also said that there is no need to cause conflict that could endanger the fabric of life in Acre, where both Jews and Arabs live together. “Even the Arab steering committee members saw a need to unanimously support the cancellation of the play,” he added.
On Tuesday, Weitzman responded to Regev’s criticism, posting on her Facebook page: “Regev is sick of hearing about the occupation. We are all sick of hearing about the occupation. I am sick of writing about the occupation. So let’s make a deal: She is a cabinet minister, let her promote a plan for a historic and just compromise with the Palestinian people and I will return to doing Chekhov.”
Weitzman said she had not asked for anything from the artists from the Acre festival, and she would have been happy if the festival was held as usual and “I would have found a way to stage the play in a different place,” she wrote. “But they acted. Their action, this rare solidarity, touched me at the deepest level personally and politically.” She told them she had not sacrificed anything, but they had sacrificed their opportunity to present their views and they were the real heroes of this story.
“Let us find another place and make sure every artist who left will receive the opportunity to present their work on stage,” wrote Weitzman.
Actors at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv read a statement at the end of the plays on Monday identifying with those who left the festival in Acre. “We support our artist colleagues in their step and call on them to defend freedom of expression in Israel,” said one of the actors, reading a statement to the audience. The statement, an initiative by the actors, was met mainly with applause – though some members of the audience objected to it. Actors from the Beersheba Theater read a similar statement after their performances.
On Sunday, the Acre festival’s artistic director, Avi Gibson Bar-El, announced his departure, as did Yussuf Abu-Warda, a member of the festival’s artistic committee. On Monday, they were joined by director Martin Mogilner, another member of the artistic committee, and Yoav Bartel, one of the three directors of the festival’s street theater events. On Tuesday, Noa Raban, a member of the festival’s artistic committee, wrote on her Facebook page that she would be surprised if it was possible to turn the clock back: “The play was disqualified based only on the title! A play that asks questions about human rights.”