Leading Israeli Rights Group Riled Up Over Culture Ministry's Revised Funding Criteria

Association for Civil Rights in Israel claims the new form that cultural institutions must fill out to get ministry support is even worse than its precursor.

A performance of "A Simple Story" at Tel Aviv's Habima Theater, April 24, 2016.
Gerard Allon

The Culture and Sports Ministry is taking heat from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel over the revised disclosures that must be made by recipients of ministry funds.

In accordance with a new funding policy unveiled by Culture Minister Miri Regev last June, cultural institutions receiving financial support from the ministry are required to state whether they offered performances in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and two outlying regions of the country. Theater groups, orchestras and dance companies that perform in the West Bank receive a 10 percent funding bonus, while those that do not perform in the three areas sustain a 33 percent cut to their funding.

When the petition filed against the move was heard by the High Court of Justice in January, court president Miriam Naor criticized the form that cultural institutions were required to fill out, saying it amounted to ideological disclosure, while another justice suggested revising the document.

At the justices’ request, the ministry redrafted the form to list the three regions in question – the Galilee, the Negev, and settlements – separately. With regard to each, the institutions are now asked to mark the appropriate responses to the following options: “We were invited to perform” or “We performed,” instead of the earlier “We refrained from performing” or “We did not refrain from performing.”

The revised form is worse than the original it is meant to replace, ACRI notified the High Court on Tuesday. The rights group claims that while the original form took exceptions into account, the new one does not – resulting in a hearing simply based on a cultural institution’s responses.

Ran Rozenberg, the lawyer representing the ministry, said the responses in the form will only be used as preliminary information and any decision on a funding reduction would not be taken without further investigation and the right to a hearing.

He said that there are exceptions that would excuse a performing arts group that “refrained” from appearing in one of the three regions, such as a security situation, the absence of an appropriate performance space or other circumstances justifying the decision.

When the new funding policy was announced last summer, Regev said it was necessary because “The state should support everyone based on egalitarian criteria, not based on the grantees’ political opinions,” and added that she will not allow cultural institutions to boycott certain locales.

Last November, the Habima national theater performed a play in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba for the first time. The play, “A Simple Story,” was performed at a community center in Kiryat Arba, but without actor Shlomi Bertonov, who refused to perform in a settlement – and was replaced.