Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev drew sharp criticism on Wednesday, as fellow politicians said their moves to defund cultural projects over political views amounted to discrimination and would lead to the “collapse of art.”
Bennett had ordered his ministry Tuesday to pull state funding for the Al-Midan theater in Haifa because a play it put on, “A Parallel Time,” was inspired by the life of a convicted Palestinian terrorist who murdered an IDF soldier.
On the same day, Likud party member Regev said she would check the possibility of cutting funding to a Jewish-Arab theater company in Jaffa because the founder, actor Norman Issa, won’t perform in the West Bank.
Leader of the opposition and chair of the Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog said that Regev’s move was discriminatory.
“The threat by Culture Minister Miri Regev to cancel funding for the theater, that is an important institute on the Israeli cultural scene, that operates not for profit and for a great cause, is the continuation of the policies of exclusion and silencing voices that begins with intimidation and false accusations on election day and continues with attempts to take control of the media and culture,” he said.
Herzog comments referenced a video made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on election day earlier this year in which he urged voters to help his Likud party to win because Arab voters were massing to oust him.
The Joint (Arab) List also criticized both ministers for their actions.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman from the Joint List said the ministers’ actions endangered freedom of speech.
“If we don’t protect the democratic space it will no longer exist to be protected,” she said while her party slammed the ministers for undermining art.
“Bennett and Regev are rushing on a cheap populist wave that will bring a collapse of all culture and art,” the party said.
Breaking ranks, Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli backed Bennett’s decision to cut funding for Al-Midan.
“I apologize upfront for breaking the right-left paradigm but Naftali Bennett’s decision to stop funding a performance that was written under the inspiration of the murderer of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam is right and justified,” Shmuli said in a statement. “Freedom of speech cannot be a cover for utter hysteria and insanity, and the country is entitled to not shoot itself in the head. Anyone who so much wants to go and see it can do so on his own in the evening and without a subsidy from the state.”
Bennett withdrew funding from the Al-Midan Theater for putting on the performance that is based on a story written by convicted Palestinian terrorist Walid Daka. 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.
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.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.