Israel's COVID-hit Culture Scene Needs a Minister Who Acts, Not Just Talks

Haaretz Editorial
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Unemployed Israeli artists protest coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem, August 2020.
Unemployed Israeli artists protest coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem, August 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

This week the government approved the opening of all the shopping malls everywhere in Israel. This happened in the wake of pressure from Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Economy Minister Amir Peretz and the lobbyists for the malls and the chain stores. “Opening the shopping malls, along with the markets, is bringing about 200,000 workers, women and men, back to their jobs,” said Peretz, lauding the move.

In this reality, it is hard not to think about the approximately 200,000 workers in the fields of entertainment and events who have been sitting at home for nine months now, waiting for a clear plan and attention from the government. Culture Minister Chili Tropper promised he would “take care that at every stage of reopening, something from the world of culture will open.” And indeed, along with the shopping mall pilot, seven out of the approximately 220 museums and galleries in the country are active again. Now that all the shopping malls have opened, it must be asked why the museums and galleries have not opened as well.

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When Tropper visited the Beit Lessin theater in Tel Aviv last month, the unemployed actors begged him to take up their cause to the government. It is clear that Tropper understands the economic as well as psychological value and importance of restoring activity in the world of culture. However, in the abyss that gapes between understanding and action, culture is dying, and is in need of a cabinet minister who will shout and fight for it, one who will propose original solutions, challenge baffling government decisions and show the people in the industry for which he is responsible that he is fighting day and night. Regrettably, this is not the case.

An aid package of 200 million shekels ($60 million), about which Tropper and Katz agreed in June, began to be transferred to the shuttered cultural institutions last month. This is too little, too slow and, for many of the organizations, too late. At a time when regular flights are setting out for the United Arab Emirates and other distant “green” countries, and the passengers returning from them are not required to go into isolation, it is unclear why it is not possible to hold performances, with smaller audiences, in well-ventilated spaces or in open areas.

Until the vaccination operation gets underway, we must once again note that art is both a profession and an essential element in human society. At its best, art poses a mirror before both the individual and the state. Possibly it is no accident that culture is at the bottom of the list, when the government is afraid to look in the mirror and see its own face.

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

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