It's time for the government to protect Israeli arts and culture

Other countries have already stepped up and allocated new public funds in this time of crisis to support their arts and artists in need.

Entertainers and event industry workers dressed in black protest the closing of their events, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in May. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Entertainers and event industry workers dressed in black protest the closing of their events, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in May.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
At a meeting last week with Israeli artists and representatives of local cultural institutions, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged, “Culture and art are not luxuries. They are the architects of the soul of a people. Without Israeli culture and arts, the State of Israel would not be what it is today.”
He’s right. But Israeli culture and arts not only feed the soul of its people, they also feed its tax coffers through the revenue collected directly from the sale of tickets, artworks, handicrafts, designed jewelry, and foreign distribution rights to locally produced television series and films, to name a few. Indirectly, the Israeli government budget gains from the billions of shekels (NIS 23 billion in 2019) earned from incoming tourism, some of which can be attributed to foreigners visiting cultural sites and artistic venues during their stays.
Israeli arts and culture are good business. And right now, in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions that have closed performance venues indefinitely and stripped artists and arts organizations of needed income, business is suffering. 
Rivlin and newly appointed Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper should be commended for recognizing the growing financial harm to local arts and artists, which were among the first to suffer from the lockdown and will be among the last to recover. Platitudes, however, will not compensate for income lost during this ongoing pandemic. Words alone will not enable Israeli artists and cultural organizations to survive and reopen when either the pandemic passes or its damage to health and livelihoods has been mitigated. More must be done.
Other countries have already stepped up and allocated new public funds in this time of crisis to support their arts and artists in need. The British government recently announced a £1.57 billion (yes, billion) financial package (approximately $2b.) targeted for arts and cultural institutions to help survive the pandemic. Likewise, the governments of Germany, France and the Netherlands have each committed hundreds of millions of euros to protect and fund artists and artistic organizations and revitalize the cultural sector.
Israel must do the same. We have the means but, thus far, lack the will. Tropper must fulfill his mandate to represent local arts and culture by mobilizing Israel’s government to immediately allocate and fund a financial package of NIS 500m. to arts and cultural organizations, self-employed freelance artists, and all of the workers and creative types who provide vital services “behind the scenes” in this sector. The ministry can call upon and engage these talented unemployed Israelis to ensure the full and fair distribution of funds.
An emergency grant of NIS 500m. to support arts and culture during this unprecedented crisis is not a handout; it is an investment that will help guarantee that artists, their colleagues and their venues survive until creative enterprises can resume and public performance spaces can reopen entirely. The return on this investment, in the words of President Rivlin, will not only continue to contribute to “the soul of a people,” but also its economy for the benefit of all.

The writer is the Israeli chair of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF), one of the oldest and largest private foundations supporting young Israeli artists and arts organizations.