For now, the Knesset rejected the flagship project of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, when about two weeks ago it removed the so-called “cultural loyalty bill” from its agenda. Nevertheless, the cultural order of the day issued by commissar Regev has been taken to heart and the cogwheels of the intimidation, silencing and cooperation machinery are turning on their own.
Last week the chairman of the national lottery Mifal Hapayis, Avigdor Yitzhaki, volunteered to act as a censor, asking the mayor of the Arab town of Kabul to cancel the play “Palestine, Year Zero” by Einat Weizman. The self-appointed censor offered Mayor Salah Rihan two children’s plays instead of the one he sought to cancel. “Palestine, Year Zero” first made headlines in 2016, when it was to take part in Acre’s fringe theater festival, and Regev instructed her ministry officials to check whether the play conveys any messages of incitement. Regev’s instruction was harshly criticized and in the end it was approved and even received the ministry’s support.
Mifal Hapayis assisted in production of the play as part of the Acre festival and also supported it in a festival devoted to plays in Arabic.
Nevertheless, even without Regev’s direct intervention, it turns out that even the head of a lottery organization can intervene in Israel’s cultural life and silence others for political reasons. But it’s not Yitzhaki’s job to intervene in plays presented in Mifal Hapayis centers, even if the right-wing people whose messenger he is demand this directly or indirectly. Yitzhaki was selected for his job to promote culture and art by means of lottery income and not to censor plays, certainly not when he acts contrary to the decisions of the artistic committee acting in his name.
Even without the cultural loyalty law, it’s difficult to assess the damage the Netanyahu government is causing by its incitement and its racist and divisive style, leveraged by nationalistic legislation, led by the nation-state law, which enshrines Jewish superiority and Arab inferiority. A direct line runs from the ritual conducted by the members of the Afula City Council three weeks ago when they took an oath to “maintain the Jewish character” of the city, to the attempt by the interior minister, backed by the prime minister, to block the appointment of a Hadash city councilman as deputy mayor of Haifa, to the approval of an expansion of the Acceptance Committees Law to communities of up to 700 families, to the disqualifying of a play. And these examples are only from the last month.
It’s hard to know what’s worse: the destruction of culture that is the inevitable outcome of silencing others, or the destruction of Israel’s social fabric by encouraging informants, harm to minorities and spontaneous shows of “loyalty” by those who are not even under the authority of the culture minister. Either way, the play “Palestine, Year Zero” must be staged as originally, rightly intended.
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