A Rallying Call for the Arts

The protest against Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev is about her incessant efforts to use art and culture as a tool of right-wing politics

People look at a statue of Israel's Culture and Sports minister Miri Regev in Tel Aviv, Thursday, November 8, 2018.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty

A statue of Culture Minister Miri Regev was placed in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square Thursday. Next to the statue, which was made by artist Itay Zalait, was a sign with the hashtag #InTheHeartOfTheNation.”

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In response to this act of artistic protest, Regev chose to focus on the hashtag. “Thank you Itay Zalait, for placing a mirror ‘in the heart of the nation’ in Habima Square,” she said. “For the past three years, I indeed spent a lot of time holding up a mirror to Israel’s cultural world, which sought to exclude entire communities, and the patronizing attitude of those who hitherto considered themselves ‘in the heart of the nation.’ And indeed, the people, all the people, are my mirror. The principles of cultural justice, in my view, are reflected by the Cinderella story and the immortal saying, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, what are the ugliest injustices of all?”

Despite her governmental role, Regev has once again chosen to follow the path of division and incitement. In her view, what’s at issue isn’t the contemptible “cultural loyalty” law she is pushing — which has nothing whatsoever to do with art, and whose true purpose is to silence critical voices on the left — but that same desire for vengeance against all those “patrons of culture,” a euphemism for leftist Ashkenazim from Tel Aviv, who for years were responsible for “the ugliest injustices of all.”

The protest against Regev was not and is not about her desire to strengthen the periphery and create some geographic and class balance in state-funded art and culture. The protest against her is about her incessant efforts to use art and culture as a tool of right-wing politics, and her desire to use public funds as an economic whip against anyone who wishes to criticize the state through art.

The statue in the square is welcome act of protest against the anti-culturalism that Regev represents, but this act merely underscores the paucity of activism in this field. What is at issue today is a governmental effort to gag the field of public culture.

Therefore, anyone to whom culture is dear must participate in this struggle. At a time when the culture minister is demanding that art be mobilized on the government’s behalf, the arts must indeed mobilize and launch an all-out war against this embarrassing demand.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.