Israel Weighs Cutting Funding to Jaffa Theatre Over Alleged Incitement

Treasury tells Culture Ministry the company’s budget could be cut, pending a hearing, for violating ‘Nakba Law’

Actors Leora Rivlin and Doron Tavori reading transcripts from Dareen Tatour's trial, August 30, 2017.
Daniel Tchetchik

The directors of the Jaffa Theatre will be summoned to a hearing on reducing the theater’s budget for violating the so-called Nakba Law. The hearing will be conducted by a joint committee comprised of representatives of the ministries of finance, of justice and of culture and sports, after which Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is to render a decision.

The Jaffa Theatre received 878,000 shekels ($246,000) in state funding in 2017.

A precedent-setting legal opinion issued by the Finance Ministry on Wednesday stipulates that a number of events held at the theater in recent months met the criteria of the law, which gives the finance minister the authority to reduce government funding to organizations that openly reject the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or that mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.

Last week, an event in support of the Palestinian-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour was held at the theater. Tatour has been under house arrest for two years while she is being tried on charges of incitement to violence and terrorism and of supporting a terrorist organization.

The event for Tatour was produced by Einat Weizman, who in June produced a different event at the theater that was also cited, in the announcement submitted to Culture Ministry Director General Yossi Sharabi by the treasury’s counsel, Asi Messing, as cause for cutting allocations to the organization.

But the Finance Ministry added that three other plays produced at the theater and included in the Culture Ministry’s complaint did not violate the Nakba Law because they did not deny Israel’s right to exist nor its character as a Jewish state. Similarly, Messing said that an August event, organized by B’Tselem and held at the Jerusalem Cinamatheque, did not meet the criteria for violating the law.

The Cultural Institutions Forum, meanwhile, was scheduled to meet in emergency session on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to any future complaints from the Culture Ministry.

Igal Ezraty, the general director of the Jaffa Theatre, told Haaretz the company is law-abiding, “especially when it comes to events that we hosted and did not censor. These events were recorded and transcribed, every word in them can be heard and we will prove they do not include a call for terrorism, revolt or violence,” Ezraty said.

Weizman said the June event that she produced at the theater addressed the incarceration conditions of political prisoners and grew out of her play, “Prisoners of the Occupation,” which was banned from this year’s Acre Fringe Theater Festival. At the June event, participants read out loud letters in which Palestinians in Israeli prisoners described their thoughts and experiences and what Weizman called their degrading and humiliating conditions of incarceration.

Weizman said that neither the letters nor the solidarity event for Tatour contained any call to support an armed struggle.

The Culture Ministry has not yet issued a response to this report.