Israel Putting Settlements Before Culture

Culture Ministry's change in criteria for allocating state funds to cultural institutions is an infringement on the central democratic concept of freedom of expression.

The Ministry of Culture and Sport has made changes to the criteria for allocating state funds to cultural institutions. This week, the directors of theaters, orchestras and dance companies received a questionnaire on which they were asked to note whether they had declined to perform in the Negev, in the Galilee or on settlements in the West Bank in the past year.
Culture Minister Miri Regev explained the measure by saying that she would not allow boycotts by cultural organizations.
Regev’s move is an infringement on the central democratic concept of freedom of expression and of opinion. It is also an attempt to impose a political stance on cultural institutions and prevent them from expressing a position that is shared by a large portion of the Israeli public – namely, that the settlements are not a legal and legitimate part of the state. Making funding contingent on recognition of the settlements is a clumsy attempt at political coercion that seeks, as in the worst regimes, to bring the cultural world into line with the government’s positions.
Another prominent aspect of this move is Regev’s typical imprecision and failure to acknowledge the facts on the ground. Regev proclaimed that she was proud to lead “the revolution (whereby) the Culture Ministry will encourage distributive justice and reduce the social gaps. ... From now on, cultural institutions will be required to report performances in the periphery and in Judea and Samaria as part of the process for obtaining budgets.” In the past, too, cultural institutions were able to receive increased advances for performances away from their home theater, and now about a quarter of the major theaters’ activity takes place in the periphery.
The new criteria will give cultural institutions a financial incentive only for performances in West Bank settlements, and financial disincentives for not performing in the Galilee or the Negev. This does not add up to the distributive justice Regev is touting. Instead, it will only increase the social gaps between the settlements – which already get preferential budget treatment in many areas – and the rest of the periphery.
Data on performances by cultural institutions in the periphery – where, when and how many times they performed – is submitted regularly by all of the organizations to the Pilat Institute – Culture Research and Information Center, which collects it for the Culture Ministry. The new declaration form is a bit of unnecessary public relations and bureaucracy, as well as a crude attempt to force cultural institutions and their directors to admit that their choice of venue for performances is based on political opinion. The Culture Ministry should eliminate this questionnaire immediately, and the directors of Israel’s cultural institutions should refuse to respond to it.

Haaretz Editorial

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