Culture ministry denies funding to controversial Arab theater

The ministry's Support Committee, in a document submitted to the High Court of Justice, said al-Midan theater in Haifa did not meet criteria demanded of all theaters.

A theater stage (photo credit: MOHAMMAD JANGDA/FLICKR)
A theater stage
The Culture Ministry has decided to deny funding to an Arabic language theater that staged what was regarded as an offensive play in 2015 about an Israeli Arab convicted of murdering a soldier.
The ministry’s Support Committee, in a document submitted to the High Court of Justice, said that al-Midan theater in Haifa did not meet criteria demanded of all theaters and thus would not receive NIS 1.1 million for each of the years 2016 and 2017.
The committee highlighted that the theater had staged only five performances in 2016 when the minimum required for funding is 100.
But Arab MKs alleged that the decision was a politically motivated bid to cripple a leading cultural institution and to muzzle and intimidate Arab artistic expression.
In 2015, the ministry suspended funding after Minister Miri Regev met with the family of Moshe Tamam, who was kidnapped and killed in 1984.
The family and the terrorism victims support organization Almagor were outraged over al-Midan’s staging of A Parallel Time, a play about the life in prison of Walid Daka, the Baka al-Gharbiya resident convicted of murdering the soldier.
The reason given for the funding freeze was suspected financial irregularities on the part of al-Midan, but Arab leaders charged that the real motive was censorship.
The new decision by the ministry was rendered in the context of a Supreme Court effort by al-Midan to receive the funding retroactively.
In addition to the dearth of performances, the allocations committee took issue with the theater’s spending NIS 136,000 on advertising and marketing during 2016 when there was so little theatrical activity.
The committee stressed its view that the drop in performances was not because al-Midan’s budget had been frozen but rather was “a result of decisions taken by the theater’s directorate.”
In the court document, the committee painted a picture of mismanagement at al-Midan. It said the theater had only “partially provided” it with vital financial information with the result that “it was impossible to get a full and complete picture regarding all the activity the theater carried out in practice during 2016 including the supported theatrical activity it carried out.”
“No significant new information was found, or information that would convince [us] that the theater carried out supported activity in 2016 in the scope established by criteria for support that are a condition for receiving financial support.”
The committee said that seven attachments sent by the theater could not be opened and that the theater’s management simply ignored requests to resend them.
“The theater claims that it should be paid NIS 2.2m. for nonexistent activity,” said the committee, which is made up of four officials including Calanit Shamir, director of the ministry’s branch for support and criteria.
Joseph Atrash, chairman of the theater’s directorate, said in a response given to Kan-Reshet Bet radio that, “the answer of the members of the Support Committee is predictable and was dictated to them by minister Regev already in 2015. We will wait for the decision of the honorable court and act accordingly.”
Meanwhile, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), said the decision reflects “clear, political persecution of this theater due to the content of its activities.
Since Miri Regev came she has been trying to dictate a political right wing agenda on cultural activities that violates freedom of expression and art,” he said.
“We see al-Midan as a leading cultural icon,” he continued.
“Targeting it is targeting our cultural identity and freedom. She is trying to warn other cultural activities to align with her vision and this is a dangerous and unprecedented attitude.”
The Haifa Municipality provided NIS 1.2m. to al-Midan for each of 2016 and 2017. The ministry’s decision “does not necessarily mean we will cease our support,” said spokesman Gil Meller.