Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, is silhouetted as he talks to students at a pre-army training course as he campaigns in the Shapira Center near the southern city of Ashkelon.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev came under attack on Wednesday for decisions they each made the previous day regarding public funding of theaters.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On released a statement condemning Bennett’s decision.
“Today, Bennett decides for us what we should see and tomorrow he will decide for us what we think,” she said.
Gal-On went on to say that it was not the minister’s job to censor plays that had been approved by a professional committee. “Such silencing is a sure sign of a country that is deteriorating to fascism,” she said, and added that she would fight the limitations being put on art.
Bennett on Tuesday called an emergency meeting of the Repertoire Committee, which approves the performances made available to schoolchildren through the culture basket, in order to remove the play, A Parallel Time.
The Repertoire Committee did not take the play out of the culture basket during the emergency meeting, which prompted Bennett to override its decision in his capacity as education minister The play is based on the story of Walid Daka, a convicted terrorist serving a life sentence for his part in the abduction, torture and murder of soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.
In his statement from Tuesday, Bennett said, “The citizens of Israel will not fund plays that show tolerance toward the murderers of IDF soldiers.”
He added that a committee that approves a play that “turns the murderer of a soldier into a hero, this is a committee whose morality should be evaluated.”
Bennett replied to Gal-On and others who had criticized his move via his Facebook page on Wednesday morning, asking, “What has happened to you? This isn’t Right or Left. This is basic morality.”
He went on to ask Gal-On if she truly believes that Israeli children should watch a play that portrays a terrorist in a human light, after he abducted, tortured and murdered an IDF soldier.
He asked why the Education Ministry should be compelled to subsidize the play.
“Sometimes there is a need to put politics aside and do the moral thing. I will continue to do so,” Bennett concluded.
In another case, Norman Issa, an Israeli Arab actor, refused to participate in a performance of the Haifa Theater’s Boomerang production, which was due to take place in the Jordan Valley, over the Green Line.
On her Facebook page on Tuesday, Regev criticized Issa – a co-founder of the Jaffa-based Elmina multicultural theater for children – for his decision, which she said “does not give expression to the coexistence in which he believes and which he champions.”
She added that “in the event that Norman does not recant, I intend to reexamine the issue of our ministry’s support for Elmina Theater, which operates under his management.”
The Joint List responded on Wednesday to both Regev and Bennett, accusing them of trying to silence people and “trampling culture.”
“Bennett and Regev are riding on a wave of cheap populism that will destroy the arts and culture,” it said.
MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Balad party that is part of the Joint List, strongly condemned Regev’s comments and told her to “stop threatening to harm a children’s theater in Jaffa, and the Arab and Jewish children who benefit from it.”
Issa refused to take part in the play because of his conscience, Jahalka said, adding, “What does Regev want, actors with no conscience?” Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, released a statement on Wednesday referring to Regev’s comments and saying that “silencing people in culture is a recipe for agitation and rebellion.”
There is a need to challenge social conventions through culture, not to align oneself with the consensus or “dance to the tune of the government, rather to encourage the proliferation of opinions and pluralism,” Kremnitzer said.
“Infringements on the freedom of expression and the freedom of artistic and cultural creation erodes democratic values and harms Israel’s image as a democratic state, which turns itself into a tool in the hands of Israel’s enemies,” he said.Barry Davis and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.