Regev backtracks on cuts to Arab-Jewish theater

Speaking with theater representatives, culture minister says actor Norman Issa will now perform at Jordan Valley settlement

Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev speaks at the ministry on the day of her appointment, May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev speaks at the ministry on the day of her appointment, May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Culture Minister Miri Regev backed down from her threat to cut the funding of a Jewish-Arab children’s theater in Jaffa after its founder, actor Norman Issa, reportedly reversed his decision not to perform in the West Bank.

In a meeting with representatives of Israeli cultural institutions Thursday afternoon, Regev clarified that performing artists may not be forced to perform on stages in venues they do not wish to visit, echoing claims already made by the actor two days ago. But the same wasn’t true for state funding of those artists, she suggested.

“I gave Norman a ladder to step down from,” Regev reportedly said during the meeting, according to Israeli news site Haaretz. “He backed down, and there won’t be a problem anymore.”

On Tuesday, the minister had published a post on Facebook in which she threatened to remove state support from Issa’s theater because the actor said he would not perform in a Haifa Theater production of a play called Boomerang, scheduled to take place in the Jordan Valley, beyond the Green Line.

But on Thursday, according to the report, Issa agreed to go with his children’s troupe to perform in the Jordan Valley following a request from its regional council head, David Elhayani.

“I respect the theater and Norman Issa, and congratulate him on this important decision,” she later wrote in a Facebook post. “Whoever believes in coexistence realizes it has no geographic, ethnic or gender boundaries.”

Responding to Regev’s threats, Issa said he had become the victim of “an unfair witch hunt.

Actor Norman Issa in Germany. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr)
Actor Norman Issa in Germany. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr)

“I am an Israeli Arab, married to a Jewish woman and raising a great family. My wife and I devote our entire lives to realizing coexistence among Jews and Arabs,” Issa said.

Issa founded the Elmina Theater in Jaffa with his wife, the playwright Gidona Raz, in order to provide a center for cultural meetings between Arab and Jewish youth, according to the center’s website.

Regev confirmed she had met the cultural representatives, and said they had agreed to establish a joint task force to address cultural issues. She said the team will operate under the understanding that “sports and culture are a bridge to peace, and that the Culture and Sport Ministry will not sponsor anyone who delegitimizes Israel.”

Reports of Issa’s decision not to join the Haifa Theater in their West Bank show offered contradictory reasons for the decision. During the Thursday meeting, Regev was presented with a letter drafted by the Israeli Actors Association, in which it was claimed that the Haifa Theater was trying to take revenge on Issa for leaving their permanent cast in favor of the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz.

The representatives stressed to the minister that the Elmina Theater has no connection to Issa’s decision not to perform in the Jordan Valley with the Haifa Theater, and that it should not be held accountable.

The culture minister’s threats to cut financing for the youth center drew widespread criticism from political rivals.

Opposition leader and Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog said on Wednesday that Regev’s move was discriminatory.

“The threat by Culture Minister Miri Regev to cancel funding for the theater, which is an important institution 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 stated.

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)

On the same day Regev wrote her Facebook post, Education Minister Naftali Bennett had ordered his ministry 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 Israel Defense Forces soldier.

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 contrast to Regev, Bennett stood by his move, telling Channel 2 on Thursday that it was an easy decision to make. “In a democracy, the Ministry of Education does not need to fund a play about the kidnapper and murderer of a soldier, and send children to watch it,” he said.

Jonathan Beck and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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