(photo credit: URIA ASHKENAZY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
In a controversial decision, the Haifa Municipality announced Wednesday it would restore its funding of some NIS 1.2 million a year to the Al-Midan Theater. Two months ago, the municipality froze funding to the theater and opened an investigation into the play A Parallel Time, following a complaint by the Tamam family.
The play is inspired by the story of Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence for his part in the abduction, torture, and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. It revolves around a fictional prisoner’s attempt to build an oud in preparation for his wedding in prison.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav defended the city’s support for al-Midan. “I see great importance in having authentic and active Arab theater in Haifa,” he said. “The city of Haifa is characterized by a unique spirit of cooperation and reciprocity based on freedom of expression that grants creators the artistic freedom to create art and culture.”
Yahav thanked the members of city council, adding that Haifa has “’known quite a few crises over the years and endured them. The world of culture and art serves as a mirror and is the fluid of life that flows through the veins of the city. I congratulate you for your choice to protect that.”
Yisrael Beytenu Party head MK Avigdor Liberman called on Yahav to resign his position on Thursday, following the municipality’s decision to reinstate funding to the theater.
“If Yona Yahav justifies the fact that the money of Haifa residents will fund plays that support terrorism and glorify terrorists under the pretext that ‘Haifa is a tolerant, cultured city,’ then Yahav does not understand what is culture and confuses between freedom of expression and freedom to incitement and between tolerance and supporting terrorism,” said Liberman.
He added that, “There is no place for local authorities in the State of Israel to fund the glorification of heinous terrorists and a head of a council that allows that must resign his position.”
City councilman Shai Blumenthal (Bayit Yehudi), who was a member of the committee that investigated the play, told Haifa Radio on Wednesday that his signature was forged on the document presented to the municipality recommending restoring funding.
Blumenthal, who has been in the hospital following surgery, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that “there was a phone call a few hours after I underwent surgery and there may have been a misunderstanding.”
According to the mayor’s office, “Councilman Shai Blumenthal directed the mayor’s office to add his signature after reading the document and approving it.”
While adding his signature may have been the result of a misunderstanding, Blumenthal told Radio Haifa that he opposes the decision to reinstate funding to the Al-Midan Theater.
Ortal Tamam, the niece of Moshe Tamam, spoke out against the decision in an interview with Ynet, calling it a “contemptible decision.”
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, who met with Tamam last month, also spoke out on Thursday against the decision.
“Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav must recant,” wrote Lapid on his Facebook profile. “[Yahav] said he would continue to fund the play A Parallel Time, written as a memoir of the despicable terrorist who abducted and murdered the solder Moshe Tamam, may his memory be a blessing. It cannot be that a mayor in the State of Israel decides to take the public’s money and use it to finance a play written by a lowly terrorist.”
Lapid added that he had instructed Shai Abuhatsira, deputy mayor of Haifa from the Yesh Atid Party, and to council members from the Yesh Atid party to oppose the proposal to reinstate funds.
“As I promised the Tamam family, we will continue to fight for them in every way,” he concluded.
The play at the center of the controversy, A Parallel Time, had been part of the culture basket since April 2014 and more than 900 11th- and 12th-grade students have seen the play.
Last month, Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanded that the Theater Repertoire Committee, in charge of the culture basket, convene an emergency meeting to withdraw the play from the basket.
After the committee met and declined to withdraw the play, Bennett announced that he had overridden their decision and withdrew the play himself, stating “there are more moral uses for the education budget than funding a play that glorifies a murderer of Jews.”
Two weeks ago, on June 16, at a meeting with the Tamam family, Culture Minister Miri Regev announced that she was suspending ministry funding pending further investigation into the theater’s various sources of funding.
This decision was made at the suggestion of Dr. Haim Perluk, chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council.