Culture gap

“If it is necessary to censor, I will censor,” says Regev.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (photo credit: REUTERS)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While no one in Israel would question the logic of an IDF chief of staff having a military background, the job description of the minister of culture seems to require no such similar familiarity with the position. How else are we to consider the latest outburst by Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev? Last week Channel 10 broadcast a recording of Regev referring to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein as “garbage” and his subordinates as “those shits.” Her remarks were made in August after Weinstein’s office informed Regev that she could not censor cultural institutions and performances based on her interpretation of their content, for this would yield “limited artistic freedom of expression.”
The ruling was issued in response to protests over Regev’s intention to withdraw state funding from the Arabic-language al-Midan Theater in June following its production of a play, A Parallel Time, based on the life of Walid Dakaa, who killed an Israeli soldier. At the time the minister justified her decision by calling the theater “unpatriotic” for “delegitimizing” Israel. The uproar over her words referring to the attorney-general and his office evoked only a rather backhanded, if not insincere, apology from the minister: “I don’t remember that I said that. If they were said, they were said in an angry moment.”
But Regev’s angry moments began long before last summer.
In a speech at a Tel Aviv rally in 2012, she created an uproar by comparing African migrant workers to cancer.
Afterward, she issued another sort of conditional non-apology: “If someone was offended, I apologize. The incitement against me and the attempt to paint my words in a way I did not intend is typical of what has been done to right-wing leaders.”
More recently, this August Regev demanded that German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancel talks for a planned performance in Tehran by the Berlin Staatskapelle, conducted by its musical director, world renowned Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim. While it’s one thing to threaten a theater production in one’s own country, Regev managed to insult both the chancellor of Germany and one of Israel’s outstanding artists.
Regrettably, Regev seems determined to live up to her initial statement on being awarded the culture portfolio: “If it is necessary to censor, I will censor.” This is necessary, she wrote on her Facebook page, because “Daniel Barenboim’s appearance in Iran harms Israel’s efforts to prevent the nuclear agreement and gives encouragement to delegitimization of Israel.” This episode was preceded by Regev’s appearance the opening of the Jerusalem International Film Festival this past July, where she was met by booing when she said she plans to “redefine and update the priorities of the cultural world in Israel.”
The scene was a reprise of her reception at the opening of the Israel Festival more than a month earlier, when the audience’s jeers drowned out Regev’s speech at the start of a concert. Before the festival, she had threatened to withdraw government support over the screening of a film about the life of Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. She compromised with the organizers and the film was eventually shown, but without being listed in the festival schedule.
The minister defended her political approach to Israel’s cultural scene in a Rosh Hashana interview in Israel Hayom: “I, Miri Regev-Siboni from Kiryat Gat, daughter of Felix and Marcelle Siboni, have never read Chekhov and almost never went to plays as a child. I listened to Jo Amar and Sephardi songs, and I'm no less cultured than all the consumers of Western culture,” she declared. “Someone who has never been in a theater or cinema and who never read Haim Nahman Bialik can also be cultured.”
Asked whether she is a consumer of culture, she replied, “No, not really, and not much Israeli culture …. Classical music and opera – barely, here and there maybe …. Excuse me, how many people listen to opera here?” Regev’s clumsy attempts to politicize the country’s culture are merely the public manifestations of an underlying polarization that indeed does threaten to delegitimize the state. This intolerance is known as eliminationism, a term introduced in 1996 by American political scientist Daniel Goldhagen to describe the belief that one's political opponents are "a cancer on the body politic that must be excised – either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination – in order to protect the purity of the nation."