Israeli Culture's Top Ten

No. 1 in the Multidisciplinary Category: Limor Livnat

Limor Livnat, 62, Minister of Culture and Sport.

It's easy to forget that the culture and sport minister's middle name is Ahava (Love.) She fights her battles fearlessly, even when it means incurring the wrath of culture lovers and creators. And there’s no doubt she feels the hostility toward her. "I'm always treated like the usual suspect,” she said in an interview with Tzipi Shohat. “I'm the one who always has to prove that I'm really okay, that I'm not an ignoramus, that I am really cultural, even though I'm a Likudnik. That I know how to read a book, that I know what theater is and even know how to listen to a little classical music; that I go to the opera not only so I'll be seen wearing nice clothes. I'm the one who always has to keep proving all these things."

In her second term as culture and sport minister, Livnat oversees the budgets of more than 800 cultural organizations, from small local choirs to the Habima Theater, the Israel Philharmonic and the Batsheva Dance Company. Her goals are "to strengthen cultural institutions and promote cultural and artistic activity; to increase and make accessible cultural activity in the social and geographic periphery; to promote and expose natural cultural assets to the public at large and to strengthen the values of Zionism."

In the wake of complaints about discrimination between the Arab and Jewish sectors, as well as from directors of cultural institutions who feel they are not receiving adequate funding, Livnat described the culture budget as follows: "At this point it's not merely a blanket that's too short. Not even a miniature blanket, not even a pillowcase, it's barely a napkin, and with this napkin somehow all the needs of Israel's cultural institutions must be met, and beyond that, other things and other cultural needs. It's practically unbearable. It's not possible. It can't be done. And so, no matter how much juggling we do of one kind or another, it will never be enough, and there will always be – and rightly so – justified and accurate complaints from everyone, from every direction."

The issues she promotes, the works she ignores and the officials she fights outline the latest map of the establishment versus the subversive. "I, who oppose censorship, call on all of you to exercise self-censorship," she wrote to filmmakers, who she described as "living in a fantasy world." The prize to encourage Zionist-oriented art, which she created in response to the international awards won by Israeli films showcasing the injustices of the occupation, became an object of scorn among the country's artists.

At the same time, she is respected by many in the field for her tenaciousness and determination with regard to the law for the protection of literature and writers. "A book is a cultural treasure and not just another consumer product, and it's important to make this distinction," she likes to say. She managed to obtain the support of the Justice Ministry, the National Council on Economics and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the law, which stipulates that a store cannot offer discounts on a new book during the first 18 months after its release, cannot reward vendors for recommending a book and cannot give preference to a certain publisher in allocating display space.