Culture Minister Miri Regev, whose confrontation with Israel’s artistic community over accusations of censorship has been making headlines, was heckled on Friday during a theater awards ceremony in Tel Aviv.
When Regev presented an award, members of the audience booed her, called her names, and some walked out while she spoke.
A small protest against her presence was also organized outside the venue.
Arab-Israeli actress, dancer and video artist Raida Alon said she organized Friday’s demonstration at the awards ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Einav cultural center over what she called government attempts to muzzle performers.
“There’s starting to be a very uncomfortable atmosphere here, a kind of dictatorship where you can’t feel freedom,” she said. “It’s getting to the point where they threaten you if you simply express an opinion.”
A small group of demonstrators, some with sticking plaster over their mouths, held a silent vigil outside the venue but erupted into boos when Regev arrived, escorted by police.
Actor Ishai Golan, one of the demonstrators, said the actions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition were “very, very worrying.”
Regev irked Israel’s artistic community last week after announcing that state funding to Haifa’s Al-Midan theater would be suspended for its performing of a controversial play about the life of an Arab Israeli terrorist who killed an IDF soldier.
Friday’s protest against Regev came a day after the Likud minister called the country’s artists “tight-assed, hypocritical and ungrateful” people who “think they know everything.”
While Regev was presenting the award, actress Gila Almagor was heard calling Regev a “beast,” and said that the minister was culturally ignorant.
Regev, who continued to address the audience despite the interruptions, called the artists 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.
Regev 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.”
Hanan Shnir, who received the Director of the Year award at the ceremony, defended Regev against the hecklers, saying that name-calling was hurtful. Shnir also said to Regev that Israeli artists were not behind efforts to delegitimize Israel.
Liora Rivlin, who won Actress of the Year, suggested that Regev, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin include visits to checkpoints and Palestinian refugee camps in school trips.
Regev said Thursday her aim of setting boundaries for art she deems legitimate for government funding would help all sides.
“That fact that I state my position in advance benefits the artists who are currently writing scripts and plays, so they know in advance what will receive funding and what won’t.”
She added that she had told the head of the actors union that, within a month, he “would know exactly what (he) can and cannot (write).”
Over the past week, Regev led several controversial moves against what she deemed “unpatriotic” productions, drawing the ire of many artists and politicians, in what some in the Israeli media dubbed a “cultural war.”
On Tuesday, the same day Regev froze state funding for Al-Midan, the Jerusalem International Film Festival decided not to publicly screen Beyond the Fear, a film based on the life of Yigal Amir, the assassin of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, after Regev threatened to pull its funding.
Regev posted on Facebook that a Channel 2 poll indicated that 63 percent of the public supported her decision regarding the Amir biopic, and that 40% sided with her in the clash over Israeli performers.
“There is no doubt these statistics warm my heart, particularly after a difficult week during which I had to make challenging decisions that relate to complex issues and the exposed veins of Israeli society,” she wrote.
Daniel Bernstein, AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.