The Prevention of Cultural Harassment Law

Even if all Israeli citizens are entitled to receive cultural services from the state, actors are not servants; they have a right and a duty to stick to their opinions.

The Knesset recently passed an anti-boycott law, which prohibits a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel. A boycott is defined by law as deliberately refraining from an economic, cultural or academic connection with a person or establishment simply because of his (or its ) connection to the State of Israel, any of its institutions or an area under its control.

The law was passed after theater actors called on their colleagues not to perform in the new cultural center in the settlement of Ariel, and following other calls - in Israel and abroad - to boycott the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and even to boycott Israel as a whole because of its policy toward the Palestinians.

Rami Baruch - Tomer Appelbaum - 19092011
Tomer Appelbaum

In advance of the dedication of a cultural hall in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, actors were once again asked to perform there, since they work at theaters that are supported by public funds. Some of them - actor Rami Baruch was the most courageous of the group - don't want to perform in a place that is a symbol of the abuse of local Palestinians by Jewish Israelis.

In order to defend those actors I propose the Prevention of Cultural Harassment Law, based on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law that was passed in the Knesset in 1998. Cultural harassment, according to this law, will be defined as blackmail, by way of threats, when an act that a person is asked and refuses to do is of a cultural character; and repeated propositions of a cultural character, which are directed at a person who has shown the harasser that he is not interested in the said propositions.

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law was designed to protect a party that is subservient in a hierarchy (in a system like the army, an educational institution, or place of work ) from the possibility that a more powerful party in the relationship will exploit the situation in order to have sexual relations. For sociohistorical reasons, the stronger party in such a hierarchy, in the vast majority of cases (if not the absolute majority ), is male, and the potential victim is female.

In the cultural relations between artists and their audiences there is also, for sociohistorical reasons, a dominant and providing party, and a subservient and giving party. But these relations are, as strange as it seems, even more complex and ambiguous than relations between the sexes.

The spokesmen for the audiences create a picture according to which artists are the ones with the power, who donate their talents to readers, listeners and viewers. Therefore, when artists refuse to perform, they presumably harm the audience.

But in truth, the artists are the ones being dominated; they are in need of the audience's love, his payment by applause and ticket purchases, and support with public funds. Artists are addicted to their need for the audience's love and support, and in the performing arts are also totally dependent on the audience. In effect, they are the threatened party, which should be protected.

Even if all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion, race, gender, political persuasion and place of residence, are entitled to receive cultural services from the state, the actors are not servants. They are people with consciences, morals and opinions, who are in a complicated power relationship. They have a right and a duty to stick to their opinions, and they should be protected from cultural harassment.

I am not under the illusion that the proposed law will pass, protect artists, or convince the people of Kiryat Arba and many of those who approve of the anti-boycott law. I only hope that using the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law to explain the issue will help Culture Minister Limor Livnat to understand why she and her male colleagues in the government's position of power must not blackmail public or private theaters and their actors with the threat of withholding public funds because of their refusal to perform in Kiryat Arba or Ariel.