Israeli artists and leading cultural figures gathered Sunday to try and consolidate an approach against Culture Minister Miri Regev's declared intent to withdraw support from institutes that "delegitimize" Israel, a move critics say would amount to censorship.
Hundreds of cultural icons crammed into a performance venue in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, to discuss a joint response after Regev sparked a furore last week when she threatened to defund a theatre managed by an Arab Israeli if he refused to perform in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The debate was also fired up by Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent decision to overrule a professional committee and pull an Arab play from a state-funded educational programme.
But Regev was the main focus of the ire of many speakers at the event, including stage actor Oded Kottler who compared the people who had voted for her ruling Likud party to “cattle” who risked being led meekly into a world where culture was silenced.
Michael Gurevitch, artistic director of the prestigious Khan theatre in Jerusalem, was greeted with thundering applause when he proposed a “strike of all cultural institutions” in case of any censorship, which he said would cause “international damage” to Israel’s image.
Others, such as prominent lawyer Eli Zohar, chairman of the Gesher theatre, called for dialogue with Regev.
“We need to make brave decisions, either we want to eat the grapes or fight with the guard,” he said to boos.
Regev on Saturday reiterated on her Facebook page that alongside her intention to encourage cultural activities across Israeli society, “the border should be clear — I won’t support cultural institutions that delegitimize and advance boycotts on Israel.”
Gurevitch said there could be no dialogue with Regev so long as she sought to influence the content of artworks.
“I don’t think we need to talk with her about the content,” he told AFP.
“The first thing she said when taking the position was that ‘if I see an artistic work that harms or delegitimizes the state, I will censor it’.”
“She can’t determine what harms the state’s security,” he said.
Gurevitch noted that the current law determining the criteria for funding artists and creative institutions did not include the question of content.
An online petition of “creators and people of culture from all fields of artistic activity” has meanwhile garnered nearly 3,000 signatures.
“We protest the anti-democratic measures taken in recent weeks by government ministries against creators and people of culture whose works or stances do not conform with those of the ministries,” it read.
Regev responded by saying she would not conduct a dialogue through petitions.
“The signatories don’t know me, haven’t heard me and know nothing of my plans,” she said in a statement. “It’s somewhat uncultured to make hysterical declarations of potential McCarthyism, which have no real foundation.”
Itamar Gourvitch, who as head of the forum of cultural institutions organised Sunday’s meeting, told AFP it had ended without a resolution.