Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) decided on Tuesday, June 16, to freeze state funding for the al-Midan Arabic-language theatre. For months, the Haifa theatre has been staging the controversial play A Parallel Time. Earlier this month, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (HaBayit HaYehudi) removed the play from the educational culture stipend, stating that Israeli school-children should not “be exposed to a play that sympathizes with a terrorist and certainly not at the expense of the state.”
Dan Yakir, the legal advisor to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sent a letter on behalf of the association to Regev on Tuesday, stating the decision to revoke funding from the al-Midan Theatre and the Jerusalem International Film Festival based on the subject matter of their presentations poses “serious harm to artistic freedom of expression.” Attorney Yakir claimed in his letter that while both the play A Parallel Time and the film Beyond the Fear deal with sensitive matters, they do not cross the line of inciting to violence or racism, and therefore the ministry should not interfere. “The culture minister is not the commissar of culture and the Culture Ministry is not the culture censor. The role of the Culture Ministry is to support culture and art, and not to strangle it,” he wrote. Yakir also contended in his letter that the public has the right to be exposed to different types of art.
“Israeli artists feel threatened in recent weeks, with their freedom of creativity and freedom of expression under constant attack,” wrote Yakir, adding, “While the artists are in the forefront of the matter, this is a threat against the entire Israeli democracy.”
The Joint List also responded angrily to Regev’s decision, in a letter to her on Tuesday, maintaining that “an attempt to punish an entity for taking a different narrative from the dominant one is a destructive, cruel, and inappropriate step.” The statement said the role of art is to hold a mirror up to society and to bring conflicts to the forefront. It also claimed that this decision not only harms the individual artists who wish to act according to their consciences and beliefs, but is also an attack upon “the collective right of Arabs in this country to express their historical-cultural narrative – a right that is enshrined in international law.” The Joint List’s letter went on to say: “Your decision is an improper use of your position for political censorship and cultural control from ideological motives… We demand that you immediately rescind this decision and refrain from any future intervention in cultural and artistic works, and that you continue to support the [Al-Midan] theatre and even increase the support it receives.”