Government scrutinizes Jerusalem art gallery for hosting left-wing group
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Government scrutinizes Jerusalem art gallery for hosting left-wing group

Culture minister pens urgent letter calling for event to be canceled, prompting mayor to question gallery officials

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

A dance performance at Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, 2017 (screen capture: YouTube)
A dance performance at Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, 2017 (screen capture: YouTube)

Representatives of a small Jerusalem art gallery were summoned on Tuesday for questioning by Mayor Nir Barkat due to their scheduled hosting of a lecture by the left-wing group Breaking the Silence.

The mayor’s move came hours after Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev sent an urgent letter pressing him to intervene and cancel the municipality-funded event, the Walla news site reported.

The lecture at the nonprofit Barbur Gallery and Community Art Center is to be given on Wednesday by the group’s educational director, Nadav Weiman, on the topic of its recently published report on the influence of Israeli settlers on the activities of the IDF in the West Bank. The talk is to be followed by an open conversation with Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak.

Breaking the Silence is an organization that collects testimonies from former Israel Defense Forces soldiers about alleged human rights violations they witnessed in the Palestinian territories during their military service.

The gallery, in the capital’s Nahlaot neighborhood, hosts contemporary art and artists and runs programs for a variety of local communities. It inhabits a city-owned building, though it lacks a permit for its operations, and some of its activities are funded by the city and the Culture Ministry.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Culture Minister Miri Regev seen at the scene of a stabbing attack in front of the Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem on October 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Culture Minister Miri Regev seen at the scene of a stabbing attack in front of the Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem on October 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Barkat said the gallery had committed “repeated violations of the attorney general’s instructions,” which stipulate that outside groups cannot use the gallery for their work until an agreement is reached regarding content that is disseminated.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dov Kalmanovich joined Regev in calling for the event’s cancellation, saying he could not imagine Barkat would give a “left-wing extremist organization such as Breaking the Silence” a platform to present its views on the city’s dime.

Yuli Novak of Breaking the Silence (Channel 2 screenshot)
Yuli Novak of Breaking the Silence (Channel 2 screenshot)

The controversy came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his British counterpart, Theresa May, to halt funding to organizations “hostile to Israel.” He singled out Breaking the Silence — which in recent years has borne the brunt of Israeli right-wing condemnation of local anti-occupation groups — even though the UK stopped funding the organization five years ago.

When pressed on the issue, the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel quickly clarified that Britain was also funding the group indirectly, via organizations such as Christian Aid and CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity.

Breaking the Silence tweeted at Regev, the culture minister, in response to her letter, promising to reserve her a front-row seat at the event.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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