Israel’s national theater will perform in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba for the first time next month, sparking criticism of the theater troupe amid an ongoing dispute over a government attempt to have cultural acts toe a more nationalistic line.
The Habima National Theater will stage “A Simple Story,” based on a story by S. Y. Agnon, in the Hebron-adjacent settlement on November 10.
Critics claimed that in putting on the show in Kiryat Arba, the organization caved to pressure from Culture Minister Miri Regev of the ruling Likud party, who has warred with cultural institutions over her right-wing stances.
Regev, who has threatened to withhold funding from artists expressing a pro-Palestinian stance, has introduced financial initiatives to cultural groups that perform in the West Bank, claiming that she wants to make culture accessible to all.
The Culture Ministry offers an extra 10% funding for those who perform over the Green Line, and institutions which refuse to perform in the West Bank are liable to have their government budget slashed by one-third.
The performance in Kiryat Arba will be the first for Habima there, though the troupe has performed in the West Bank before, including a show to open a new cultural hall in the settlement of Ariel in 2010 that drew wide protests.
Haim Weiss, a well-known literature lecturer at Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wrote on Facebook (in Hebrew) that by playing in Kiryat Arba, the Habima Theater was giving “legitimization to the settlement enterprise in general and specifically to the most extreme and violent among them.”
“The presence of the Theater, the workers and actors, shares in the process of normalizing the occupation and turning Kiryat Arba into another city in which it performs is very troubling,” he wrote.
Artists joined Weiss’s protests, including playwright and director Joshua Sobol, who told the Haaretz newspaper that “Hebron and Kiryat Arba are not part of Israel. Therefore Israeli institutions should not be pressured to perform there.”
In response to the outcry, Habima said that the management of the theater rejects “any attempt at a cultural boycott in any place where Israeli citizens live. Habima Theater is the national theater of the State of Israel.”
The local council of Kiryat Arba responded on its Facebook page that it “praises the Habima Theater for joining the many artists and institutions who have taken a part in Zionist culture which connects all of Israeli society.”
For her part, Regev wrote, “This is a vision that has become reality. This is how the National Theater should act.”