After outcry, actor walks back right-wing ‘cud-chewers’ comment

Oded Kotler says he intended to critique society as a whole, and not any particular political group; author Amos Oz calls for attacks on minister to cease

Israeli actor and director Oded Kotler. (Oren Nahshon / FLASH90)
Israeli actor and director Oded Kotler. (Oren Nahshon / FLASH90)

After finding himself knee-deep in criticism over a description of right-wing voters as “cud-chewing cattle,” an Israeli actor on Monday rushed to clarify that he was speaking of society as whole and not of supporters of the right wing.

During an interview with Army Radio, Oded Kotler said his intention was misunderstood and he was merely lamenting the notion of a society in which art is restricted.

His clarification came after politicians and fellow members of the arts community raked Kotler over the coals for the comment, made at a meeting to air concerns over new Culture Minister Miri Regev, who hails from the right-wing Likud party.

“I retract any intention to hurt anyone among the voters to the right, the left, the middle and the north,” Kotler said. “That is not what I meant; I meant only one thing, to create a society in which there is free art and not a herd [mentality]. I said things yesterday that weren’t clear enough.”

Kotler said his comments had been spurred by Regev’s demonizing of the left wing. Critics have accused the Likud minister of planning to throttle the arts by cutting funding for those whose politics she disagrees with.

“The herd includes me. I am also an animal,” Kotler told Army Radio. “I didn’t mean a particular style or a certain kind of citizens, I meant all of us. You mustn’t forget, the things I said [that made me] the new enemy of the people, came in response to the things that Culture Minister Regev said.”

“It seems to me that anyone on the street who wants to find something ugly and evil in what I said will manage to even after this explanation,” he added.

Last week during during a meeting with Israel’s artistic community aimed at encouraging patriotism, Regev said, “We got 30 Knesset seats. You got a total of 20,” referring to Likud’s victory in the March elections.

When asked to clarify what she meant by “you,” Regev responded, “We know that the left attributes culture to itself, we don’t need to get confused about who the public is, and whom [the public] chose.”

On Sunday night during an emergency cultural meeting in Jaffa, the actor focused on the recent “anti-democratic measures” taken by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Regev relating to members of the artistic community.

“Imagine your world is quiet — without books, without music, without poems, a world where no one disturbs you and no one stops the nation from celebrating the 30 [Knesset] seats which are followed by a herd of straw and cud-chewing cattle,” Kotler said to the crowd of artists.

Kotler’s speech was met with applause from the crowd, but also heckling, as disputes broke out between the crowd of artists gathered at the meeting over how to address the ministers’ moves in recent days to defund cultural projects over political views.

On Monday, acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz said that while he opposes Regev’s position, the attacks on her should stop.

Calling Kotler’s statement an unrestrained tirade against Miri Regev, Oz told Israel Radio that rather than cursing and humiliating, there should be debate.

Regev earlier responded to Kotler’s remarks, saying that likening Likud voters to “cattle” reveals the “ugly and patronizing face of the speaker, Oded Kotler, and some of the participants who clapped for him.”

“Kotler’s remarks express, in my view, a cultural darkness,” she said in a Facebook post.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition, also slammed Kotler for his speech, saying that the actor’s comment “has absolutely nothing in common with culture, love of mankind or pluralism.”

Herzog’s fellow Labor party member MK Shelly Yachimovich also derided the the actor’s remarks, saying she would use her “freedom of expression to make a diagnosis that whoever calls 985,408 people cattle is a beast himself.”

The furor over freedom of artistic expression in Israeli society began last week after Regev published a post on Facebook threatening to withdraw state support from a Jewish-Arab children’s theater in Jaffa after its founder, actor Norman Issa, said he would not perform in the West Bank.

However, Regev later backed down from her threat after Issa reportedly reversed his decision to boycott West Bank performances.

Bennett last week also ordered his ministry to pull state funding for the al-Midan Theater in Haifa because a play it staged, “A Parallel Time,” was inspired by the life of a convicted Palestinian terrorist who kidnapped and killed an Israel Defense Forces soldier.

The minister said that he intervened in the matter because the play was an autobiographical account of a terrorist, and turned the convicted killer of a soldier into a hero.

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