New Culture Minister Says Won't Let Israel's Image Be 'Undermined' for Sake of Pluralism

Cultural figures split over the amount of damage new culture minister may cause to artistic freedom of expression.

Tomer Appelbaum

New Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev declared Sunday that she “won’t lend a hand” to undermining Israel’s image for the sake of promoting pluralism.

“I won’t lend a hand to undermining the image of the State of Israel, Israel Defense Forces soldiers or the state’s heritage as a Jewish and democratic state,” she said at a ceremony in the ministry to mark her entry into office.

She also noted that the Israel Antiquities Authority falls under her ministry’s jurisdiction and vowed to be involved in every decision that agency makes.

Several prominent cultural figures who spoke with Haaretz over the last few days said they do not believe Regev will adopt the “carrot and stick” approach used by her predecessor, Limor Livnat. This approach included threatening to withdraw government funding for projects that did not meet Livnat’s ideological approval.

But others are worried. Just two and a half weeks ago, for instance, Regev weighed into a dispute over funding for Al-Midan, an Arab theater in Haifa. Various parties had urged canceling the theater’s municipal and state funding due to its decision to stage the controversial play “A Parallel Time.”

“The theater staged a show about the murderer Walid Daka, a prisoner sentenced to life, a participant in the murder of soldier Moshe Tamam,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “And at Tel Aviv University, students have been invited to submit films on the issue of the Nakba and the return of the Palestinian refugees. The time has come to put an end to this and stop funding bodies that support terrorists, traitors and terror and set clear criteria on this issue in the fields of education, culture and sports.”

Roni Ninio, head of the Israeli stage director’s association, said that if Regev indeed tries to continue her predecessor’s practice of threatening to withdraw funding, “we’ll raise our voices loudly.”

“Freedom of expression in theater, film and all other artistic fields is the top priority,” he said.

But Yaakov Mendel, chairman of the Israeli Union of Performing Artists, said he had trouble believing the ministry would actually implement such a policy.

“Only actions will tell; all the declarations and statements really don’t excite me,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like she’ll intervene in content. This is a democratic state. I don’t see this happening, and don’t believe they’ll intervene in the content of art, because there’s no such thing.”

Uri Levy, who headed the theater department of the National Arts and Culture Council under Livnat, agreed. “For all the piling on Livnat, she never intervened in content,” he said.

Itamar Gourvich, chairman of the Cultural Institutions Forum, agreed. “Life is stronger than any paper or any procedure you draft,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that the minister will understand that cuts in order to punish or teach a lesson aren’t something that will help, so they aren’t something that will happen. This isn’t the path she will choose.”

Regev can, however, influence the appointment of the new head of the National Arts and Culture Council. The current head, Haim Perluk, will end his six-year term later this year, and Regev will recommend a successor to the cabinet. She will also recommend new members for the council. This creates an opening to appoint politicians or other people from outside the world of culture.

In addition, the ministry’s Culture Administration is currently without a director, since the previous incumbent left and a tender for his replacement was frozen due to the recent election. The director also chairs the ministry’s funding committee, giving him great influence over the ministry’s work.