For weeks the government saw the protests of infuriated unemployed workers in the culture and public events industries and didn’t bother to do a thing. Hunger strikers, protesters arrested, performers standing up to fight, huge traffic jams, endless explanations about economic collapse, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost – and nothing.
A time of crisis, an emergency, a collapsing national economy, a pandemic, a prime minister who is standing trial and meanwhile is annexing territory – these have all pushed performers, performances and events to the end of the line. The message to the protesters is clear: There are more important things on the agenda right now. Two weeks ago, government-supported cultural institutions were able to arrive at a proper plan for compensation. In a proud photo-op, the ministers of finance and and of culture announced that these institutions would receive 200 million shekels ($57.9 million), which would allow the directors of these bodies to breathe easy. But the compensation is only for those institutions whose funding comes partly from the government on a regular basis, such as theaters, orchestras, dance companies and cinematheques. Independent performers, as usual, got the short end of the stick. The state left them unable go on stage, unable to make a living.
The despair that boiled over on Monday in Jerusalem in a demonstration attended by thousands of people from the culture and public events industries deteriorated into stormy clashes with the police, during which two people were arrested. Only after it was over did the prime minister promise to meet with representatives of these industries and the finance and culture ministers deigned to dig into their coffers, pull out 40 million shekels, and promise that the money would be made available immediately to hold cultural events in all municipalities. But that funding is far from ensuring real hope for some 150,000 people out of work in these industries, and seems mainly an attempt to calm things down a little. The culture industry was the first industry required to shut down, and now, with coronavirus infections continuing to rise, no one is talking about the moment when things get back to back to normal in this field. But it’s hard to calm things down when there’s no logic and no justice. Since June 14, up to 250 people are now allowed to attend weddings, bar mitzvah and circumcision celebrations, but performances with audiences of that number are not allowed. Singing and dancing at weddings approved by the rabbinate – that’s allowed; singing and dancing at a cultural event or performance – that’s putting lives at risk.
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In a country where culture is continually shunted to the lowest rung of priorities, this logic is not surprising. On Wednesday evening Netanyahu met with the leaders of the industry and pledged that within 24 hours he would present his plan for immediate reopening, and by the beginning of next week, a plan for compensation and assistance. This the hour of Culture Minister Chili Tropper’s test. Against the backdrop of the trauma left by former Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the new minister, Chili Tropper, was embraced when he entered office. But bold rhetoric is no substitute for action and achievements. Thousands of unemployed culture-industry workers are Tropper’s first test.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.