Outspoken Culture Minister Miri Regev threatened to withhold funding from two productions showing at a top festival because they contain nudity, provoking mockery and claims of censorship.
Regev said her office would not subsidize shows “harmful to the basic values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
In a letter Tuesday to Israel Festival director general Eyal Sher, Regev wrote that full nudity — even in the framework of art — offended many people in Israeli society.
While the festival and audiences could make their own choices, “state funding cannot be distributed to activities detrimental to the values of society and its identity,” Regev wrote to Sher.
The Israel Festival, which opens in Jerusalem on Thursday, is the country’s largest and most important interdisciplinary arts festival, featuring performances by domestic and international artists.
This year two productions — “Pindorama” from Brazil and Spain’s “And what will I do with this sword?” — feature nudity.
Sher stressed that both of these shows were only for those who had bought tickets and were staged in auditoriums, not “in the wider public sphere.”
“We state clearly on all marketing material which performances include nudity, specifically because we are sensitive to those who might not be interested in such shows,” he said on Thursday.
“The public is invited to choose from among a wide variety of renowned shows that will take place over the three-week festival.”
Sher said they were not considering changing the program, and noted that the ministry’s funding enabled the festival to “bring the most original, contemporary, innovative, daring materials based purely on artistic considerations.”
The Culture Ministry was expected to provide approximately 20 percent of the festival’s budget, which Sher said was under NIS 10 million ($2.82 million, 2.51 million euros).
Regev, formerly the army’s chief spokeswoman and censor, has taken upon herself to rattle Israel’s art establishment, which she considers to be uninclusive and leftist.
She recently won attention for wearing an evening dress featuring a Jerusalem skyline at the Cannes film festival. The gown portrayed the city — including East Jerusalem — as unified under Israeli rule.
Cultural figures in Israel accuse Regev of seeking to muzzle them, including trying to advance a bill that would cut subsidies to institutions deemed not “loyal.”
The bill was never finalized.
MP Zehava Galon of the leftist Meretz party said Regev’s “wiping out free art” in the name of protecting Israel from subversion has now evolved to “demands of modesty from artists.”
One image circulating on social media showed Michelangelo’s statue David wearing Regev’s Jerusalem dress to cover up its famous nudity.