The ongoing war Culture Minister Miri Regev has been waging on artists and cultural institutions passed its most worrying milestone to date on Wednesday. For the first time ever, in response to a complaint by the Culture Ministry, the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser recommended utilizing the procedure set out in Article 3(b) of the Foundations of the Budget Law (a provision better known as the “Nakba Law”) to reduce government funding for the Jaffa Theatre over two incidents that, in his view, entailed incitement to terror.
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Six-and-a-half years have passed since the Knesset enacted this law, during which there have been three finance ministers and two culture ministers. Yet despite repeated threats, never before has anyone sought to turn off the funding tap. Consequently, this dangerous censorship alliance between Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, which entered the practical phase this week, ought to disturb the sleep not just of Jaffa Theatre employees and fans, but of the entire Israeli cultural world.
The opinion written by treasury attorney Asi Messing “acquitted” three of the theater’s productions (which dealt, inter alia, with Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as well as Jewish and Palestinian narratives of life in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood). But this “acquittal” carried a heavy price. The treasury lawyer decided that an evening devoted to a Palestinian poetess who was charged with incitement to terror on the basis of her Facebook posts, as well as a public reading of correspondences between someone imprisoned for terror-related offenses and a childhood friend, were justifications for slashing the theater’s funding.
This snowball won’t stop at the Jaffa Theatre. Other theaters will also come under attack, as will art galleries and museums mounting exhibits deemed inappropriate by this treasury official. Moreover, the chilling effect Regev exerts is already working; establishment theaters have virtually ceased staging political shows, and their artistic directors no longer even consider doing so.
Kahlon and his ministry’s bureaucrats would have done better to refuse to cooperate with Regev’s artistic McCarthyism. But given the treasury’s lack of backbone, the art world must unite around the Jaffa Theatre. It must not hide its head in the sand and offer audiences nothing but entertainment, repression and denial of reality. In contrast to the rare solidarity offered to artists and directors of the Acre Fringe Theater Festival, but which died out prematurely, this is a test the cultural world must not fail.