State said to defund Arab theater that held play about terrorist

Culture Ministry withholds NIS 1.1 million of promised budget from Haifa’s Al-Midan, citing financial irregularities

Haifa‘s Al-Midan Arabic-language theater. (YouTube screenshot)
Haifa‘s Al-Midan Arabic-language theater. (YouTube screenshot)

The Culture Ministry is reportedly withholding state funding from an Arabic-language theater that was embroiled in controversy over a production of a play based on the life of a killer of an Israeli soldier.

The decision to defund the Al-Midan theater in Haifa was officially due to financial irregularities and failure to meet the requirements for a state grant, Israel Radio reported Monday.

The ministry decided not to transfer NIS 1.1 million ($310,000) in funding already promised for 2016 and to reject the theater’s 2017 application for a grant, the report said.

In a document submitted to the High Court of Justice, the Almagor terror victims association claimed that the theater did not meet the threshold conditions for receiving subsidies. In 2016 the theater held only five performances or productions, but in order to be eligible for funding it had to have held at least 100, it said.

The document also said that in 2016 Al-Midan spent NIS 136,000 ($38,000) on advertising and marketing.

“It is unclear how the theater did not have any theater in 2016, but had advertising and marketing expenses,” the ministry wrote in its decision.

The Almagor organization praised the move.

“The report shows what we in the Almagor organization have claimed for nearly three years — that the Al-Midan Theater should not exist and should be deprived of any financial support,” the group said in a statement aired by Israel Radio. “Not only does it present offensive content against the State of Israel and in favor of terrorists but we also saw financial irregularities and peculiar administrative conduct.”

Joseph Atrash, chairman of the theater’s board, said that the ministry’s decision was not unexpected. “The response of the members of the [ministry’s] funding committee was expected and was written for them in advance by [Culture and Sport] Minister [Miri] Regev already in 2015,” he said.

The investigation into the finances and workings of the theater began after a 2015 production of the play “A Parallel Time,” which documents a day in the life of a Palestinian prisoner.

IDF soldier Moshe Tamam, who was murdered in 1984 (screen capture: YouTube)

The Palestinian prisoner is a fictionalized version of terrorist Walid Daka, an Arab-Israeli man who received a life sentence for abducting and murdering Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

That production led Regev to freeze state funding to the group following allegations that it had questionable sources of funding. However, the attorney general subsequently overturned her decision, saying the move “limited artistic freedom of expression.”

Joint (Arab) List head MK Ayman Odeh accused the ministry of targeting the theater because of its Arabic-language productions.

“The anti-culture ministry continues to do its utmost to harm authentic Arab creativity in the country,” he told Israel Radio on Monday.

The ministry rejected accusations of bias, explaining that its funding committee is “a statutory committee that operates under the law and consists of legal advisers, accountants and professionals,” Israel Radio reported. “The committee examined the theater data thoroughly, going beyond to letter of the law to allow its management to submit supplementary data time after time, and found that it did not meet the threshold conditions for receiving support.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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