Israeli Minister Vows to Investigate 'Disrespect' for National Anthem at Fringe Theater

Miri Regev's post came after an actress criticized a defamation suit against director Mohammad Bakri and after audience members, some of whom had already begun filing out, were asked to sing the national anthem.

Minister Miri Regev at the Israeli Oscars, the Ophir Awards, September, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

Culture Minister Miri Regev vowed on Saturday to investigate an Israeli fringe theater festival, saying that the closing of the event on Friday featured "extremist comments and contemptuous conduct by some of the artists."

In a Facebook post, she claimed that some of those in attendance at Tel Aviv's Tmuna Theater had shown disrespect for Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva.

"It is so regrettable and ugly and embarrassing that a group of artists allows themselves to denigrate the values, symbols and the anthem of the State of Israel on behalf of whom many soldiers fought and died," Regev wrote.

At the end of Friday's ceremony, actress Einat Weitzman asked to comment from the stage regarding a defamation complaint filed earlier in the week by a reserve Israeli officer against Mohammad Bakri, the director of the film "Jenin, Jenin." The film portrays Bakri's purported version of some of the events in a 2002 Israeli military operation in the West Bank during the years of the so-called second intifada. The reserve officer, who participated in Operation Defensive Shield, filed the suit over what he claims are distortions of fact in the film.

"Bakri is one of the best actors there's today in Israel-Palestine, a genius actor and an outstanding director," Weitzman told the audience in part. "Only a cultureless and stupid country could silence and censor one of its best actors." She called on the audience to join a discussion outside of the auditorium to demonstrate solidarity with Bakri.

At that point, the program host told the audience: "For the singing of 'Hatikva,' the audience is asked, yes, you know what comes after this." The lyrics to Israel's national anthem were then projected on a screen, but some in the audience had already begun filing out of the hall. The hosts led those who remained in "Hatikva."

Noting that she had decided to double funding for the Fringe Theater event over the past year, Regev wrote on Facebook: "The time has come that this handful of artists understand that it does not run the country which it despises [along with despising] its citizens. I am pleased that other than themselves, this handful doesn’t represent anyone. Freedom of expression isn't freedom to humiliate."

In another clash on Friday, an ocean away, between participants at a cultural event and elected officials, one of the lead actors of the Broadway hit "Hamilton," knowing that U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in the audience, implored him from the stage to respect the country's diversity. "We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights," said actor Brandon Victor Dixon.

In response on Twitter, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump took Dixon to task, writing: "Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!"