Forcing Israeli Arab Culture to Conform - or Wither

Fascist-like tendencies are on display in the defunding of Haifa's politically nonconformist Al-Midan theater. Tendencies that can only be expected to grow stronger under the incoming government.

Haaretz Editorial
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Milay, the daughter of Juliano Mer-Khamis, standing next to her father’s coffin at the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa on April 6, 2011.
Milay, the daughter of Juliano Mer-Khamis, standing next to her father’s coffin at the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa on April 6, 2011.Credit: Reuters
Haaretz Editorial

Haifa’s municipality last week voted to freeze its funding for the city’s Al-Midan Theater until after a panel submits its recommendations regarding the staging of a play there, “A Parallel Time.”

The play is based on a story written by Walid Daqqa, who was convicted of membership of a terror cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which abducted and killed Israeli solder Moshe Tamam in 1984.

With the support of political figures, relatives of Tamam and activists protested the play’s opening on Palestinian Prisoners Day (April 17).

Al-Midan was founded in 1995, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his culture minister, Shulamit Aloni, made efforts to encourage Arab culture.

The theater is a cultural center for Arab artists that provides a stage and serves Haifa’s Arab community. Administrative punishment, especially when it is based on the populist exploitation of a family’s loss – councilman Shai Blumenthal (Habayit Hayehudi), who submitted the point of order to suspend city funding for the institution, admitted he had not even seen the play but had only read the synopsis – has no place in a democracy, which is how Israel sees itself.

This act of administrative censorship is particularly worrying in that it suits the anti-minority atmosphere in Israel today, which targets Arabs in particular and includes demands by politicians for curbs on freedom of expression in regard to controversial issues.

These demands are the direct continuation of the tendency of members of the outgoing government – including former Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat – to link state support for cultural institutions with the institutions’ conformity to the tastes of the political majority. Regrettably, these tendencies, which share characteristics with fascist regimes, can only be expected to grow stronger under the incoming government.

In Laor v. Council for Film Censorship (1985), the High Court of Justice was asked to rule on the banning of the play “Ephraim Returns to the Army.”

Writing the majority opinion overturning the ban, Justice Aharon Barak described a scene in the play “that breaks my heart,” going on to say, “Nonetheless, we live in a democratic state in which heartbreak is the very heart of democracy.

“Its power is not necessarily in my right to hear niceties that are pleasing to my ear,” Barak added, noting, “Its power is necessarily in the right of the other to voice words that pain my ears and that strike my heart.”

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