Entertainers protest planned cut to arts budget

More than 1,000 members of the country's artistic community filled the plaza of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on Tuesday afternoon to protest the government's intention to cut NIS 53 million from the NIS 415m. arts budget. Actors Gila Almagor, Natan Datner, Yevgenia Dodina and Yona Elyan and dancer/choreographer Ido Tadmor, among others, called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to intervene, rescind the cuts and ensure a viable future for culture in Israel. Enraged actors, dancers, musicians, authors, composers, directors and the rest have moved to the offensive, with all of the country's cultural institutions having banded together to form a group called the Cultural Forum. They are calling for a comprehensive solution to the perennial battle over funding for culture, and have also announced their intention to boycott the 60th Independence Day celebrations next year. Cameri Theater artistic director Omri Nitzan said that "there are more secure places in the world than Israel, and richer economies, but there is no place in the world that creates Hebrew culture except here. Zionism began as a cultural revolution, and a government... that throttles culture is anti-Zionist." Actor Sasson Gabai, recently voted Actor of the Year at the European Film Academy Awards for his role in the Israeli film The Band's Visit, said, "This year, Israeli films have won more than 80 international awards, have attracted more than one million in audiences and provided some 100,000 days of work." This would not have been possible without the passage of the Cinema Law seven years ago, he said, and called on the government to enact similar legislation to protect culture as a whole. "If we don't have culture in its broadest sense, we have nothing to live for," said MK Michael Melchior, who has lined up 61 MKs from all parties in support of his proposed incremental Culture Law that will mandate government funding for culture at 0.5% by 2016. Even this figure will fall far short of the 1-3% common in European countries. A fax received from the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday said "the prime minister attaches great importance to the establishment of a five-year budget for the cultural institutions and has instructed the professionals concerned to present their recommendations to this end within 60 days." However, actor and Forum co-chair Yoram Hattab dismissed the message, saying, "They want to talk with us in February after the budget has passed." Hattab has called on the country's artists to demonstrate outside the Knesset on December 24, when the 2008 budget will be discussed. Buses will be provided.