Students, faculty boo culture minister’s anti-criticism campaign
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Students, faculty boo culture minister’s anti-criticism campaign

In separate incident, Miri Regev to re-assess funding of multicultural theater in light of actor refusing to perform in West Bank

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Culture Minister Miri Regev was met with boos and jeers when she stated her intention to cut funding to groups who seek to hurt Israel’s standing in the world, during a speech Tuesday at the start of a film festival.

Regev’s speech took place during the Darom cinema festival at the Sderot cinematheque, where films by students from the Sapir College’s School for Voice and Screen Arts were being shown.

Regev went on stage to speak ahead of the screening of shorts directed by graduates of the school, but was interrupted by shouts and heckling from the audience when she announced her intention to “prevent those giving ammunition to our enemies.”

“There is nothing like that,” shouted Aner Preminger, a prominent lecturer at the college, who was applauded by students supportive of his views.

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who was present, tried to restore calm and at one point security guards even approached Preminger in order to allow the minister to continue her speech uninterrupted, NRG reported.

Speaking to the Hebrew website, Preminger explained his actions: “I did not unplug her mic or not let her speak. I said the duty of culture is to really allow everyone to sound their voice and the minister, in what she said, actually blocked some of the voices, and this is what I see as so serious.”

“Censorship starts when people are afraid. She is actually saying: you will receive funding, but don’t delegitimize [Israel]. If a person makes movies and starts being afraid, is it delegitimizing or not? Lecturers are going to start being afraid of what they say and what they avoid saying during class. As soon as she says these things she doesn’t understand what pluralism means,” he continued.

Regev said she supported the right of critics to express their views.

“This is pluralism, pluralism that will be expressed in Ariel, in Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth and Sderot. We will support those who do not delegitimize the State of Israel. With all honor to the professor, those who want support from the Culture and Sports Ministry should not delegitimize the State of Israel,” she said

Soon after in a Facebook post Regev referred to the shouts as business as usual. “It was clear to me that during my speech outcries would be heard here and there,” she said. “The truth is I’m not overwhelmed by it and I’m not surprised.”

Regev was similarly heckled last month at the opening of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. The concert’s headliner, singer Shalom Hanoch requested that Regev not speak as to avoid politicizing a cultural event.

“If a political official does address the audience from the stage, I intend to speak my mind on this matter and respond strongly,” Hanoch said.

“It’s nothing personal against her,” a spokesperson from Hanoch’s PR firm told the reporters, emphasizing that throughout his career the rocker was careful not to politicize his performances.

“I’m not out to upset any artist, but if I’ve already been invited, I don’t think the artist should have a say in the matter,” Regev — who went ahead and spoke, and was heckled — said in a statement posted to Facebook at the time.

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

On Tuesday Regev also discussed recent statements made by Christian-Arab actor Norman Issa, who has refused to perform in the West Bank.

“I was disappointed to hear the actor Norman Issa’s statement this morning saying that he would not appear in the Haifa Theater’s play ‘Boomerang’ in the Jordan Valley,” she said.

“Issa’s decision does not exemplify the coexistence that he believes in and swears by. If Norman does not go back on his decision, it is my intention to reevaluate the ministry’s support of the Elmina Theater, which operates under his management.”

Issa founded the Elmina Theater in Jaffa with his wife, the playwright Gidona Raz.

In response to Regev, Issa, who is most famous for his role in the television show ‘Arab Labor,’ said that over the last 24 hours he has been the victim of “an unfair witch hunt,” according to Haaretz.

“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.

“This issue is not new,” he said. “When an actor, whether Jewish or Arab, is unwilling to perform due to conscientious reasons, they can be replaced with a substitute actor.”

The Elmina Theater said in response: “We have no reason to believe the Culture Minister, Miri Regev, will prevent subsidies from the Elmina Theater NGO – a multicultural theater for Jewish and Arab children withstanding all criteria justifying state support. This is a non-profit organization, and its credo is that an experience of theater jointly enjoyed by Jewish and Arab children without prejudice is capable of generating a shift in societal consciousness.”

Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.

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