“No self-respecting artist would want to take the stage from which another artist was thrown off because of the topic she addressed,” said playwright and director Yehoshua Sobol, who pulled out of the Acre Fringe Theater Festival to protest the disqualification of “Prisoners of the Occupation,” which deals with letters and stories of Palestinian prisoners. His remark should echo in the minds of those artists to whom the festival’s new artistic director that the steering committee will appoint may turn in an effort to build a new program, after the eight groups whose performances were on the program withdrew in protest.
The protest over the festival steering committee’s disqualification of “Prisoners of the Occupation” is growing. Those artists who had threatened to pull out if the play was not restored, did so on Monday, joining the festival’s artistic director, Avi Gibson Bar-El, who on Sunday informed the Acre municipality that he was resigning. He was followed by two members of the artistic committee, Yussuf Abu-Warda and Martin Mogilner. “This year Acre will have the Miri Regev festival,” said one of the withdrawing artists. But it’s noteworthy that in this case, the culture minister didn’t even have to intervene; the members of the steering committee beat her to it.
The Acre festival maintains a separation between its steering and artistic committees. The steering committee and the city choose the artistic director, who together with the artistic committee are responsible for artistic choices. Although festival regulations allow the steering committee to approve or reject the artistic program, this was the first time it has ever disqualified a performance. Gibson-Bar El has been the artistic director for a year and a half and received high praise from the public and the city for the quality of last year’s festival. The steering committee, which disqualified “Prisoners of the Occupation” twice, thus undercut the proper management and the good name of the Acre festival, which for its 38 years has been a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence and of free expression.
The artists did the right thing by rising up in protest at the festival’s censorship. Other artists would do well to exhibit solidarity with the disqualified play’s creator, Einat Weitzman, and the other protestors, and refuse to participate in the festival despite their natural desire for exposure and the respectable grant they would receive. It would behoove some other city to support the protest and offer to sponsor the full repertoire.
Only by combining the power of artists and citizens, organized protest and solidarity — at this festival and anywhere free expression and other democratic values are undermined — will it be possible to stop the processes of silencing and intimidation by Regev, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and their collaborators, all being quietly conducted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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