Culture minister makes nice with Arab Israeli actor
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Culture minister makes nice with Arab Israeli actor

Miri Regev had threatened to defund Norman Issa's theater after he said he wouldn't perform in settlements

Culture Minister Miri Regev and actor Norman Issa during a meeting in Tel Aviv on Friday, June 19, 2015 (courtesy)
Culture Minister Miri Regev and actor Norman Issa during a meeting in Tel Aviv on Friday, June 19, 2015 (courtesy)

Culture Minister Miri Regev met Friday with actor Norman Issa, whose Jaffa theater she had threatened to defund over Issa’s statement that he would not perform in a West Bank settlement.

Issa has since agreed to perform in the West Bank, prompting Regev to announce that she would not cut his Elmina Theater’s state funding.

The meeting came amid an ongoing firestorm over Regev’s threats to withdraw subsidies from cultural institutions and productions deemed “unpatriotic.”

The two met in Regev’s office in Tel Aviv, Regev said in a statement Saturday night.

“The meeting was good and significant,” Regev said. “Issa is a wonderful person, I knew him before very passingly and liked him then but I like him even more today. It is important for me to say, Issa was offended by things that I said, and by the deluge of headlines and media fracas of the past two weeks.”

Regev went on to praise the Elmina Theater, “where coexistence is the order of the hour.”

She had no intention of “hurting” Issa or his theater, she said. “I saw our meeting as the end of this affair. The dialogue we held was a true show of freedom of expression and tolerance and I hope we will continue this dialogue in the future.”

In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Issa called Regev a “warm woman” and said the two had “found common ground” during their conversation.

“The talk we had was the antithesis of all the media and social media brouhaha of recent days,” he said, referring to the controversy over Regev’s intention to tie the funding of cultural institutions to their political views. “And this is proof that through dialogue one can change the world. I will continue to believe in coexistence and open dialogue and to hope for a better future for all of us.”

Regev, a former IDF chief censor who in recent weeks has repeatedly been accused of seeking to ban dissenting artistic voices, was heckled on Friday during a theater awards ceremony in Tel Aviv.

In addition to the controversy surrounding Issa, she had also announced that state funding to Haifa’s Al-Midan theater would be suspended, amid a debate over for its performances of a controversial play about the life of an Arab Israeli who killed an IDF soldier.

Minister of Culture Miri Regev (center) at an award ceremony for Israeli theater, in Tel Aviv, on June 19, 2015. (Photo by FLASH90)
Minister of Culture Miri Regev (center) at an award ceremony for Israeli theater, in Tel Aviv, on June 19, 2015. (Photo by FLASH90)

Friday’s protest against Regev came a day after she called the country’s artists “tight-assed, hypocritical and ungrateful” people who “think they know everything.”

While Regev was presenting the award, veteran theater and screen actress Gila Almagor was heard calling Regev a “beast,” and accusing the minister of being culturally ignorant.

Regev, who continued to address the audience despite the interruptions, called the performers driving the backlash against her hypocritical and ungrateful.

“There are a handful of artists appropriating their ownership of public discourse and speaking in the name of freedom of speech in order to silence those who think differently,” she said.

Regev urged an end to the conflict between herself and Israeli artists, many of whom have publicly accused the new minister of seeking to limit freedom of expression in the country through anti-democratic measures.

She said the issue at hand was not freedom of expression, but freedom of funding. Regev announced that, together with the artistic community, changes would be made in the distribution of funds “for the good of culture in Israel.”

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