PM blasts artists boycotting Ariel culture center

ByREBECCA ANNA STOIL
August 29, 2010 11:40

B’Tselem: Settlement inflicts ‘heavy damage to human rights’

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the week

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the week. (photo credit:AP)

Amid growing calls Sunday for a counter-boycott against artists who refuse to perform in Ariel’s new cultural center, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the artists for joining an “international attack of delegitimization” against Israel.

The Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee announced that it would hold an emergency hearing on the artists’ petition, while left-wing MKs and organizations sprang to the aid of the actors, writers and producers who signed the petition late last week.

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“The State of Israel is under an attack of delegitimization by elements in the international community. This attack includes attempts to enact economic, academic and cultural boycotts. The last thing we need at this time is to be under such an attack – I mean this attempt at a boycott – from within,” complained Netanyahu at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“I do not want to deny the right of any person, of any artist, to hold to a political opinion. He or she can express this opinion, but we, as a government, do not need to fund boycotts. We do not have to support boycotts directed at Israeli citizens in any manner whatsoever.

“I was pleased to hear Culture Minister Limor Livnat announce that the theaters concerned have stated that they would continue to hold their performances in the various communities as planned,” continued Netanyahu.

“This is the correct approach, as opposed to the incorrect approach of pushing or trying to promote boycotts against Israeli citizens.”

Livnat is expected to discuss the issue at the Knesset meeting, which committee officials said would be held on Thursday. In addition to Livnat, representatives of the Ariel Municipality, cultural institutions and the Justice Ministry are expected to attend the session, which was requested over the weekend by MKs Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) and Carmel Shama (Likud).

Finance Ministry representatives are also expected to attend, to address questions of stripping funding from cultural organizations that refuse to perform in the West Bank city.

But even within the government, there were those who argued that the artists were within their rights to say that their conscience blocked them from being able to perform in the new cultural center, which is slated to open in early November.

Coalition member MK Ghaleb Majadle (Labor), a former culture minister, said during an interview with Israel Radio that if he were still minister, he would not have condemned the artists’ initiative.

After a number of prominent theater directors said over the weekend that they did not intend to boycott the Ariel cultural center, the leftwing organization B’Tselem wrote to them Sunday, calling upon them to visit the Ariel area and see for themselves what B’Tselem described as “the heavy damage to human rights inflicted by the continued existence of the Ariel settlement.”

In the letter, B’Tselem executive director Jessica Montell said that “millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank are denied their basic rights, including the right to culture, largely as a result of Israel’s settlement project” and expressed her hope that “the theater managers gain full knowledge of the facts in order to engage in the public debate sparked in Israel as a result of the refusal of leading theater artists to perform in Ariel.”

Also on Sunday, Peace Now announced that it is planning a demonstration entitled “The Play Must Stop: Occupation is not Cultured” Monday in front of Habima Theater in Tel Aviv to show its support for the artists who signed the petition and to call on theater managers not to require the actors to appear in Ariel.

At the same time, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, and the Ariel Students’ Union said that they were considering launching a counter-boycott against any artists or theaters that made good on their threat to refuse to perform in West Bank communities.

“Thousands of students and young people live and study in Ariel, and they deserve to enjoy the best Israeli creations and art. You are hurting us as youth who want to receive Israeli culture like everyone else,” said Ariel Student Union chairman Yosef Mor-Yosef.

“In the name of the students of Ariel, I proclaim that we will consider boycotting all of the artists who signed on to the letter.”

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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