Bennett and Regev, Ministers Without Culture

Unlike in autocratic regimes, financial support by the state doesn’t give it control over what is performed, much less over the actor's opinions and actions.

Gali Eytan

The Haifa Municipal Theater informed the Jordan Valley Regional Council that a performance of “Boomerang” which had been scheduled to take place there would be canceled, because actor Norman Issa refuses to perform there, and the theater chose to honor his views. Culture Minister Miri Regev promptly announced in a Facebook post that “If Norman doesn’t retract his decision, I intend to reconsider the ministry’s support for the Elmina Theater, which he manages.”

Unlike in dictatorial regimes, the fact that a democratic state provides budgetary support for theaters doesn’t give it absolute and automatic control over what is performed, much less over the actors’ opinions and actions. And it certainly doesn’t justify reconsidering the state’s budgetary support for the children’s theater (Elmina) that Issa runs in Jaffa Port, whose aim is multicultural Jewish-Arab cooperation, just because Issa refuses to appear as an actor in a Haifa Theater performance for political reasons.

Nor is it only Regev who seeks to subordinate art to narrow nationalist politics. On Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett decided to remove the play “A Parallel Time” from the list of artistic works the state will help pay for schoolchildren to see, even though a professional repertory committee had recommended its inclusion on the list. The play, put on by the Al-Midan Theater, is based on a story written by Walid Daka, who was convicted of being part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell that kidnapped and murdered soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. Bennett even announced that he will summon the committee’s head, Dr. Bilha Blum, for clarifications, though Blum has stressed that the play contains no offensive or inflammatory material.

The benighted views of Regev and Bennett must be understood against the background of the fact that in recent years, several leading Israeli theater personalities have urged their colleagues not to perform in the West Bank settlement of ArieI. And Israel’s state-supported theaters have chosen – correctly – to honor the refusal of actors and actresses to appear in plays slated to be staged in the occupied territories.

Former Culture Minister Limor Livnat recently spoke out on this issue in an interview with Lady Globes. “I issued a stern warning that I wouldn’t transfer funding to any theater whose actors won’t perform in Ariel,” she said. “I’m not certain this would be upheld by the courts, but I fought for my position, and in the end, they came like puppies.”

But theater personalities aren’t “puppies,” and contrary to the claim of Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, they are indeed private individuals, with consciences and political opinions, who are fulfilling their civic duty to obey the dictates of their conscience. Perhaps they are also doing so partly in the hope of drawing the attention of the public and its elected representatives to the important point: Israel insists on continuing its policy of occupying territories and their residents, and it is thereby destroying, with its own two hands, the recognition – which until recently wasn’t the least bit controversial – of its right to be a state like any other state.