More than 2,000 Israeli artists have signed a petition warning against anti-democratic measures being taken by the government against freedom of expression. The petition, entitled “The Blacklist: Members of the artistic community will not be silenced,” has been signed by well-know Israeli cultural figures, including veteran actress Gila Almagor, filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz, writer Yehonatan Geffen, and long-time actor and director Moni Moshonov. The signers of the petition – including actors Ran Dankner and Keren Mor and dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin – added in the document that they were not afraid to voice their opinions.
The petition, which includes the signatures of prominent figures from film, theatre, cinema, dance, literature and music, claims artists are being silenced for views that do not fall in line with those espoused by the new government’s ministers. “We, the signatories below, are the voices you are trying to silence. We hope that Israel will not deteriorate into a country in which artists that express their views are put on a ‘black list’. The petition was launched after the newly-installed minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, announced she would re-examine the criteria for state funding of the arts.
At a meeting with representatives of cultural institutions on Thursday, June 11, Regev said that because her Likud party had received 30 seats in the Knesset, she had the legitimacy to decide how to allocate the funds. “I decide the criteria; I can decide which institutions get money,” she said. “The government doesn’t have to support culture. I can decide where the money goes. The artists will not dictate to me.” A day earlier, Regev threatened to cut government funding for the al-Mina Theater in Jaffa because its manager, the Palestinian Arab actor Norman Issa, a citizen of Israel, refused to perform in a settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley with the Haifa Theater troupe of which he is a member. The petition was also a response to last week’s decision by the education minister, Naftali Bennett, to stop performances for high-school students of a play by the al-Midan Theater in Haifa entitled “A Parallel of Time.”
Also, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has demanded that the Ministers Bennett and Regev retract their recent public statements that endanger the freedom to artistically express diverse opinions. On Wednesday, June 10, ACRI Chief Legal Counsel Dan Yakir wrote to Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. Attorney Yakir explained in his letter that: “Your position as Minister of Education requires you to ensure that the education system will teach students a critical and pluralistic worldview that challenges accepted conventions. This decision sends exactly the opposite message. As such, we ask you to rescind your decision, and to refrain from interfering with the professional-artistic considerations of the Ministry’s Theater Committee.”
ACRI also addressed Minister of Culture Miri Regev, who announced that she is reconsidering her ministry’s support for the al-Mina Theater. Attorney Yakir wrote: “Denying funding for this organization, for acts unrelated to the theater’s activities and not under its control, constitutes collective punishment. There is no greater danger to freedom of expression in general and artistic freedom in particular. It would befit the Minister of Culture not only to avoid from threatening artistic freedom, but to defend it decisively and firmly.”
Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI Chief Legal Counsel: “The recent statements by Ministers Bennett and Regev violate freedom of artistic expression in a deep and prolonged manner. These statements foment a dangerous atmosphere that will deter artists from producing critical creations that do not align with the establishment view. It is the very ministers who are supposed to sanctify free expression and creation that are in fact sending forth a diametrically opposed message. In making his decision, the Minister of Education has trampled on the professional body in his ministry, which will have a negative chilling effect on the independence and professionalism of the ministry’s expert committees. It is feared that, in the future, such committees will make their decisions based on the views of the relevant minister rather than according to their professional judgment, and independent experts of the highest caliber are likely to refuse to serve on such committees when decisions are overturned by ministerial decree.”