Israel enters EU culture program which excludes West Bank settlements

West Bank settler groups and regional council heads condemned the government's decision to join the EU's flagship Creative Europe program.

 Jewish settlers look on during a march near Hebron in the West Bank, June 21, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
Jewish settlers look on during a march near Hebron in the West Bank, June 21, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

Israel will join the European Union's 'Creative Europe' program promoting cultural cooperation between artists in participating nations, the government approved at Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

As part of Creative Europe, the EU will heavily invest in artists from Israel and across Europe who initiate cross-cultural events with each other as a means of promoting Europe's cultural sphere on the international stage. 

Israeli-European cooperation

Israel, which is reportedly paying a yearly admission fee of some €1.6 million, sees the flagship program as an essential step toward increasing its cooperation with Europe by developing Israel's cultural scene and giving Israeli artists a chance to showcase their talents on a bigger stage, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The program aims to provide backing in every cultural genre, from screenwriting, creative workshops and media programs to choreography, plastic arts and theater. In addition, the program will fund joint Israeli-European film festivals and support Hebrew literature by translating books to the various languages spoken across Europe.

The bill which will see Israel integrated into the program was unanimously approved by the cabinet after it was initiated by Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper (Blue and White) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Orna Barbivay of Yesh Atid. Tropper thanked Lapid and Barbivay for their work in making the move possible. The Jerusalem Post reported last year that Lapid marked joining the European culture program as a target as soon as he entered office in June 2021.

"This is an important addition to Israel's cultural scene and will do wonders for the development and prosperity of Israeli art"

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper
 Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper speaks to the Israeli Olympic delegation competing at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper speaks to the Israeli Olympic delegation competing at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

EU program angers settlement officials in West Bank

The move garnered negative attention from Israeli settler groups and regional council heads in the West Bank due to the EU's insistence on excluding Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line from the program due to the EU's position that the West Bank is occupied territory.

The Foreign Ministry mentioned Israel's "disagreement" with the EU on the matter, which was previously resolved in negotiations on Israel's admission into the EU's 'Horizon 2020' program in 2014. 

 Palestinian boys walks past the remains of their family's dwelling, that was funded by the EU's humanitarian arm, after it was demolished by Israeli forces, near the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, near east of Jerusalem January 21, 2016 (credit: REUTERS/ABDELRAHMAN YOUNIS) Palestinian boys walks past the remains of their family's dwelling, that was funded by the EU's humanitarian arm, after it was demolished by Israeli forces, near the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, near east of Jerusalem January 21, 2016 (credit: REUTERS/ABDELRAHMAN YOUNIS)

That agreement included a 'territorial clause' which only recognizes sovereign Israeli territories. When the research and innovation funding program was relaunched as Horizon Europe in 2020, Israel again agreed to respect the territorial clause.

A move that 'undermines Israel's sovereignty'

Yossi Dagan, the Shomron Regional Council head, condemned the government's "discriminatory" decision, which he demanded be overturned.

The agreement, which "disgraces the State of Israel," according to Dagan, "undermines Israel's sovereignty and discriminates against West Bank artists."

"Above all, the agreement causes harm and shame to Israel within the international community, as if we don't believe in our own sovereignty"

Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan
 Shomron regional council head Yossi Dagan speaking in a protest against the government plan to cut down the number of new housing units planned to be built on the West Bank, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 8, 2022. (credit: SAMARIA REGIONAL COUNCIL) Shomron regional council head Yossi Dagan speaking in a protest against the government plan to cut down the number of new housing units planned to be built on the West Bank, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 8, 2022. (credit: SAMARIA REGIONAL COUNCIL)

Dagan also addressed the reasoning that the Bennett-Lapid government is only doing what former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous government has done in the past with the aforementioned Horizon program.

"The fact that other governments have done the same is not an excuse and not an appropriate answer," Dagan stressed. "As long as this government is in power, it is responsible for its own actions."