Opinion

An Open Letter to the Culture Minister

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
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Chili Tropper, Israel's new culture minister, with Benny Gantz.
Chili Tropper, Israel's new culture minister, with Benny Gantz.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

I hasten to write you this letter now, less than a week since you entered office, precisely because at this time, in the current political context, in this fetid vacuum of a bloated, cut-off, surreal, irrelevant government, your role as minister of culture is perhaps the most important. At this time, which was already broken and turbid before the coronavirus and is all the more so afterward, this system you’re in charge of, “culture,” is to a large extent the lifeline of Israeli society.

Only a relevant, free culture, one that is not afraid of addressing and processing this time, will enable Israeli society to shake off the indifference it has sunk into over the recent years, and to move on.

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Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown Credit: Haaretz

Your role, more than anything else, is to enable the mechanisms that probe and clarify Israeli society, those that ask questions, challenge starting positions, lead it toward the new era, to exist, to thrive. That’s what significant culture does, that’s its great, revolutionary value. I deliberately write revolutionary. Your role as culture minister, certainly at this time, is first of all to enable this revolutionary thrust, to encourage it, to understand that it’s the life breath of culture, its real raison d’etre, to understand that culture that only makes you feel good is out of order, depraved. And what do you want, to deprave it or to make it grow?

So to a large extent your duty as “culture minister,” as a proxy of the self-defensive government, puts you in a built-in conflict of interests with “culture,” with what gives it value. But this is precisely your great challenge. A serious culture minister, who performs his role faithfully, must at all times stand on the side of culture, the people, the issues, the doubt casting. If you act as the gatekeeper of the old world, of power, of those who want to freeze reality, to lull the public to sleep, to drown it in sugar – you’ll fail. Your responsibility is far greater than the expectations the exhausted, dispirited culture world is pinning on you.

The duty of a culture minister who comes, as you said in your opening speech, “from love of culture,” is to stand on culture’s side even when it undermines – and it should undermine – the narrative the government you’re part of wishes to tell, even when it subverts the concepts, ideas and values that you, as government, want to bestow, the manipulations that you as government wish to carry out. That’s your only option to be a significant culture minister and to really impact the sphere you live in and raise your children in. Take it.

Israeli society at this time, more than during almost any other time in its existence, needs a strong, confident, free culture. One that doesn’t waste energy on struggles against those who are supposed to make it thrive, to give it strength. A culture that is busy developing and honing new ideas and new views about our existence here, one that shapes reality, drives it forward, marks the distortions, the lies, the self deception. This is the culture you must push. Society cannot be strong without a strong, vibrant, relevant culture.

I’ll be honest. I’m writing you this letter with more than a pinch of doubt. Not because of who you are, but because of the impossible context you operate in. Politics has become an independent interest group. Between its interest and the public it almost always chooses itself – see the government you’re a member of.

It is doubtful whether the things I’ve written about here can really exist in our era. And yet, it’s your responsibility. That’s your mission. And I write this letter more than anything else to make it clear to you how momentous and critical this mission is and to what extent, if you really want to, you have a real opportunity to make a change.

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