Israeli festival faces state funding cuts over nudity

Livni defends festival, saying: "This is culture, not pornography."

Dance - Pindorama (photo credit: SAMMY LANDWEER)
Dance - Pindorama
(photo credit: SAMMY LANDWEER)
Culture Minister Miri Regev was greeted with boos Thursday night when she got up to speak at the opening night of the Jerusalem Festival in Jerusalem.
 Regev set off a firestorm this week when she threatened to pull funding from the Israel Festival over performances that include nudity.
“It’s OK, this is part of democracy to oppose things I say,” she said. “Nobody can shut my mouth,” said the outspoken minister. “It is my right to say what I believe... I won’t get off the stage until I’m done.”
Earlier in the day, festival director Eyal Sher defended those shows as “an integral part of the artistic program.”
In a letter to festival organizers on Tuesday, Regev said any presentations featuring naked performers are “detrimental to the basic values of the Israeli public and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
“Every individual, of course, has the right to act as he wants and it is your right as a festival to make your artistic choices, and on that I am not intervening,” Regev wrote. “But the budget of the state cannot be distributed to activities that harm the values and identity of society.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Regev wrote that she “does not intend to fund nude performances from the state budget.”
Sher, in response, thanked the Culture Ministry “for its financial support, which helps enable the festival to continue and blossom.”
“As Regev wrote in her letter,” Sher said, “festival presentations that have an element of nudity are indeed an integral part of the artistic program. We emphasize that such performances take place in auditoriums and are only available to those who buy tickets... We state clearly on all our marketing materials which performances include nudity, specifically because we are sensitive to the those who might not be interested in such shows.”
Sher told The Jerusalem Post that the festival receives about 20% of its approximately NIS 10 million budget from the Culture Ministry.
“We are operating according to clearly defined criteria for support and based on the legal principles of the State of Israel as stated in the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “As such, the issue of changing the program due to any external consideration is not on the docket. The funding of the ministry is critical to the festival because it is what allows it to bring the most original, contemporary, innovative, daring materials based purely on artistic consideration [rather than commercial ones].”
The two performances that include nudity are Pindorama, a tumultuous dance show from the Brazilian Lia Rodrigues, and Angélica Liddell’s What Shall I Do with This Sword?, a dramatic tale of human nature and terrorism in Spanish, Japanese and French.
The 56th annual Israel Festival, which runs for three weeks, began Thursday, and includes dance, music, theater and performing arts shows.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni told Kann’s Reshet Bet on Thursday that she’s had “enough of the supervision and censorship” from Regev.
“This is culture, not pornography.”
She added: “It is not in public, it doesn’t force anyone to see nudity who doesn’t want to. The definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state does not mean it is a religious one.”
Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On posted on Twitter that someone should “whisper to Miri Regev that in the Israeli Museum the statue “Nimrod” by [Yitzchak] Danziger is displayed, and – oh no – you can see his penis.
“What began as preventing free artistic expression in the name of ‘undermining the State of Israel’ has become modesty demands for artists. Raise your hand if you’re surprised,” she added.
Prominent Israeli artist Yair Garbuz said on Galatz radio Thursday that he has long since become exhausted defending free speech in Israel.
“The country doesn’t have to fund content,” he said, “it needs to fund performers who create content... Sometimes there is high culture that offends people, and sometimes it does not suit the leadership. Tomorrow will they say – why should we fund a boring production?” Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson, meanwhile, mocked Regev’s threat against her latest perceived “enemy.”
“I accept the fact that not all of the content meets the minister’s taste,” Hasson said, “but she tends to forget that the money is public money and not from her private pocket... the culture minister of Israel in 2017 cannot act like the dictators of yesteryear and wake up every morning with another decree.”
Regev was greeted with boos when she got up to speak at the festival’s opening night in Jerusalem Thursday.
“It’s OK, this is part of democracy to oppose things I say,” she said. “Nobody can shut my mouth,” added the outspoken minister. “It is my right to say what I believe...I won’t get off the stage until I’m done.”