Israel: Tensions remain strained between artists and culture ministry

Miri Regev
Members of Israel’s artistic community have filed a lawsuit against the country’s ministry of culture as artists and cultural institutions increasingly feel threatened under culture minister Miri Regev, who has attempted, among other things, to put laws in place that would tie funding to “loyalty to the state”, thus curbing artistic expression in the country, reported The Art Newspaper on 31 August 2016.

The lawsuit seeks to reveal the ministry’s and Israeli Council for Culture and Art’s decision-making processes and appointment procedures.

In her short time as culture minister, Regev has described artists protesting her policies as “tight-assed”, effectively escalating what local media are calling a “culture war” that is politicising the art world and stymying artistic freedom.


Barrage of funding threats
Earlier in 2016, Regev proposed her so-called “loyalty bill” that would cut public funding to any arts organization not “loyal to the state”, which included actions such as, disrespecting state symbols, marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, denying Israel’s right to exist or rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The bill did not pass through the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) in late March 2016, but that doesn’t mean that artists and cultural institutions are necessarily safe from Regev’s agenda, reported Variety on 5 April 2016.

Jerusalem Post’s Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov told Variety that, “Miri Regev is the kind of person who will keep trying from different angles. I don’t know what else she has up her sleeve right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something.”

One such tactic surfaced in June 2016 wherein Regev’s ministry sent out questionnaires to theatres and dance troupes asking if they hold performances in settlements in the West Bank. Regev said that the results of the survey will influence the funding of the organisations in her mission to bring culture to the “periphery and Judea and Samaria”, saying that “culture is a basic right for all citizens”, reported The Times of Israel on 15 June 2016.

If all goes according to her plan, the ministry would then cut funding by 33 percent to organisations that refuse to perform in the settlements and boost those organisations who do by 10 percent, reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on 16 June 2016.

Regev already had threatened to cut funding to a children’s theatre in 2015 after its founder refused to perform in a settlement in the West Bank. Also in 2015, Regev cut funding to Arab-language al-Midan theatre for staging a controversial play about a Palestinian jailed for killing an Israeli soldier after the director said he identified with the Palestinian, reported The Independent on 20 June 2015.


Artistic community speaks out
In recent months several members of the artistic community have spoken out on the rapidly growing environment of political pressure on the arts, making it difficult for artists to freely express themselves artistically.

Artist and professor Larry Abramson resigned from his post as head of the art school at Shenkar College to call attention to the “ever-growing infringements” his students and artists will face in the coming years. He told The Art Newspaper that:

The past year has seen a growing threat to freedom of expression in Israel. The greatest threat to democratic society is self-censorship. When artists, curators and directors of art institutions choose to pre-emptively avoid polemic issues, they have given up the struggle in advance, and have sacrificed their dearest values for the comfort and security of governmental budgets.

Famous sculptor Dani Karavan, in protest, has asked the Knesset to remove or cover his famous sculpture that appears inside the building saying that “artists express their opinions less because of fear to be in conflict with the government”.


Photo: Haaretz YouTube channel


Sources

» The Art Newspaper – 31 August 2016:
Artists and museums sue Israel’s ministry of culture

» Jewish Telegraphic Agency – 16 June 2016:
Israeli ministry collecting info on, and threatening to slash funding of, artists who shun settlements

» The Times of Israel – 15 June 2016:
Culture minister warns of funding cuts for acts that shun settlements

» Variety – 5 April 2016:
Israel Broadcasting Authority among country’s cultural institutions struggling to survive

» The Independent – 20 June 2015:
Israel’s Minister of Culture Miri Regev vows to withhold funds from artists who ‘defame’ the state


More from Freemuse

» 22 March 2016: Israel: Proposed ‘loyalty bill’ to impact on artistic expression 

» 28 January 2016: Israel: Culture minister proposes ‘loyalty bill’ for arts funding

» 22 June 2015: Israel: Artists up in arms over remarks by Culture Minister

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