Bennett pulls state funding for controversial Arab play

Education minister says ‘A Parallel Time’ glorifies terrorism, will not finance plays ‘tolerant of the murder of soldiers’

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett ordered his ministry Tuesday to remove a controversial play inspired by the life of a convicted Palestinian terrorist from its repertoire of approved shows.

“I’ve ordered the relevant people in the education ministry to immediately remove the play from the culture basket,” he said of the state-funded selection of cultural events intended for youths.

Bennett was referring to the play “A Parallel Time” by Al-Midan, an Arab theater in Haifa. He charged that the play glorifies terrorism.

According to Bennett’s statement, the play tells the story of Walid Daka, an Arab-Israeli man imprisoned for abducting and murdering Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. He received a life sentence.

“Israeli citizens won’t fund plays tolerant of the murder of soldiers,” he said. “I’m education minister, and a play that portrays tolerance to the murder of soldiers guarding over me is not education.”

Last week, Bennett urged a ministerial committee — which originally approved the play before it premiered at the theater April 2014 — to reconsider its endorsement. The committee members however, found no incitement or offensive content and declined to pull the play.

Bennett said on Tuesday 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.

Shortly after announcing his decision, the education minister released a statement saying that that Israeli schoolchildren would “never see a play that tolerates the murder of Jews — not in my schools.”

He also questioned the moral principles of the 12-member committee for twice approving the production.

In 1999, Daka made headlines after he became the first Palestinian prisoner permitted to wed while incarcerated, and for his protracted legal battle for a conjugal furlough.

The play mainly focuses on Daka’s wedding – his efforts to construct a new jail cell, and his fellow prisoners’ attempts to smuggle in materials to build him an oud for a wedding present.

A still from the play 'A Parallel Time' (Courtesy)
A still from the play ‘A Parallel Time’ (Courtesy)

Last month, a confrontation between Tamam’s family and the play’s actors outside the theater prompted the Haifa municipality to suspend NIS 1.2 million ($300,000) in annual funding from the theater and set up a municipal panel of inquiry to evaluate the content of the play, but has yet to make a recommendation.

The Al-Midan management and the play’s director have maintained the play was simply a fictionalized account of the day-to-day activities of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and does not address, nor glorify, acts of terror.

The Tamam family however, disagree and say the play evokes empathy for their son’s killer. They have spearheaded recent efforts to have the play banned and the Arabic-language theater defunded by the state.

Hailing Bennett’s decision as a “moral obligation,” the Tamam family told Ynet Tuesday they welcomed the education minister’s decision and said they would continue to campaign lawmakers to stop support of the theater.

Al-Midan’s manager criticized Bennett for making a decision based on the public’s outcry, and not based on his own personal assessment of the play’s content, the website reported.

According to a report in Channel 2, the theater said it would appeal Bennett’s decision with the High Court of Justice.

The Joint (Arab) List also slammed Bennett’s decision to pull funding for the play, and called it a way of “silencing the freedom of expression for not aligning with the beliefs of the majority.”

“The decision violates both the freedom of expression of the artists and the rights of Arab students to watch this play as a part of a school activity,” a statement released by the party read.

The Arab MKs also said they planned to appeal the decision.

Since the introduction of the Education Ministry’s initiative to bring arts and culture to Israeli students, the play has been seen by over 900 11th and 12th graders.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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