Culture Minister Miri Regev’s shameful victory in pushing through a law that will turn the country’s cultural institutions into patriots for hire has competition. Less than a day after Regev became the wet nurse of Israeli culture, Education Minister Naftali Bennett launched himself as an incendiary balloon against the Association of University Heads in Israel. The forum, which Bennett recently called a “cartel” that he succeeded in breaking, is now being asked to accept Ariel University — named for the West Bank settlement in which it is located — as a member. If it refuses, Bennett threatened, he will cut off its funding.
The education minister does not fear that foreign academic institutions will stop cooperating with the association. He, like his culture-loving cabinet colleague, is battling for the honor of the nation’s symbols and its flag. To them, content is insignificant. Why is it so important to Bennett that he bring Ariel University into that loathsome cartel?
>>Academic loyalty test | Editorial
It is the unbridled desire to achieve, at any cost, recognition for an institution that to him represents the annexation of the territories to Israel. If Regev has compelled the theaters to perform in the settlements as if they were the flesh of the State of Israel’s flesh, Bennett is coming at it from the opposite direction, working to bring the territories into Israel. But the goal is the same. Just as the settlers have succeeded in shaping legislation in Israel, now their agents will be the ones who decide when a movie is subversive, which cultural content is appropriate and what academia must do to prove its loyalty to the Greater Land of Israel.
The Israel of Netanyahu, Regev, Bennett and their spear-carriers seems to be auditioning to win a certificate of loyalty from the settlers of the occupation. To the credit of these commissars, it could be said that they know their enemies’ weak points and where to aim their blows.
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Israel’s cultural and academic institutions, unlike the ports, Israel Electric Corporation and Israel Military Industries, don’t have powerful trade unions, and they have traditionally stayed out of partisan politics. But the political isolation they have taken upon themselves has turned them into political victims. Their excessive fastidiousness has forced them to become political institutions and collaborators of heavy-handed ultranationalism that does not recognize cultural or academic neutrality; ultranationalism of the “if you’re not with the government, you’re against it” — the state, that is. Academia and culture has just two options: the way of the boycott, divest and sanctions movement, or that of the government’s hymns to the homeland.
But there is a third way, cruel and difficult: Cease to exist. Like the powerful labor unions, the cultural and academic worlds are in control of a switch. If there is no longer an Association of University Heads, it cannot be forced to accept Ariel University. Instead of responding with polite missives, the association’s members, together with their colleagues on the Council for Higher Education in Israel — which opposed the accreditation of Ariel University — should all resign.
If the Habimah and Cameri theaters were to go dark, no one could force them to perform in the territories. Instead of whining and tsk-tsking over ultranationalist laws, audience members who care about academic and cultural freedom could vote with their feet, cancel their memberships and boycott performances in the territories.
In 1941, the theaters in Nazi-occupied Norway went on strike for five weeks to protest the firing of six actors who refused to participate in radio performances under Nazi control. Theater managers were fired and sent to the Grini concentration camp. Henry Gleditsch, the manager of a theater in Trondheim, was executed because he continued to show performances crucial of the Nazi regime. After the regime took over the theaters, the audience boycotted the productions. But enough of those comparisons. This is not Norway and there is no Nazi regime. Here they strictly protect the right to whine and cluck their tongues.