In first, Jaffa theater faces cut in state funding because of ‘incitement’

Ministers weigh defunding Arab-Hebrew Theater for holding readings of letters by jailed Palestinian prisoners, poems by Arab-Israeli under house arrest for alleged terror support

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Jaffa Arab-Hebrew Theater, 28 October 2011. (CC BY-SA Itzuvit, Wikimedia commons)
Jaffa Arab-Hebrew Theater, 28 October 2011. (CC BY-SA Itzuvit, Wikimedia commons)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is set reduce government funding for a Jaffa cultural institution following two performances of readings from Palestinian prisoners, apparently the first time the Treasury has involved itself in censoring cultural institutions.

Kahlon will begin the process by inviting the directors and managers of the Jaffa Arab-Hebrew Theater for a hearing, on the grounds of suspected incitement to terror, Ynet news reported on Wednesday.

Decisions on funding for cultural institutions normally go through the Ministry of Culture, which has in the past threatened to pull funding from several groups accused of anti-Israel activity,

The move comes after Culture Minster Miri Regev asked Kahlon to apply a previously unused clause in the budget law to clamp down on incitement.

Her demand was apparently spurred by two recent events.

Last week, the theater held an evening in honor of Israeli Arab poet, Dareen Tatour during which her poems were read, and a short movie she directed was shown. One of the readings was a poem by Tatour entitled, “Resist My People, Resist.” Tantour is under house arrest for alleged support for a terror group.

Palestinian Poet Dareen Tatour speaks about her house arrest, September 2016. Screen capture: YouTube)

Three months ago the theater also staged an event called “Notebooks from Prison.” This included readings of texts written by Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails. A preliminary probe revealed that at least one of the readings could be interpreted as incitement to violence and support for armed struggle or a terror act against the State of Israel.

However, a final decision about cutting the government budget for the theater group, which this year totals NIS 878,000 ($245,000), will only be made after the hearing.

Regev shared Tartour’s video which had been screened in Jaffa on her Facebook page on Saturday. She asked rhetorically whether it was shown by Hamas in Gaza, Islamic State in Syria or by Hezbollah in Beirut. Her post received over 70,000 views and caused widespread outrage in the comments section.

On Sunday Regev filed a complaint about the event with police chief Roni Alsheich.

The Finance Ministry’s legal adviser, Asi Messing, advised Regev to use a mechanism detailed in Clause 3B of the Basic Law on Budgets, which bars incitement to violence or terror, to prepare a position paper on cutting the theater’s budget for Kahlon’s consideration.

The Finance Ministry is also looking at four other events, including a screening in Jerusalem’s Cinematheque by the left-wing group Breaking the Silence.

Tartour, 25, was arrested in October 2015 and indicted in November 2015 for incitement to violence and for support of a terrorist organization. She remains under house arrest.

Tatour was charged for a poem she published on YouTube and Facebook calling for Palestinian resistance to occupation and for three Facebook posts, one of which quoted a call by the terror organization Islamic Jihad for a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and within the Green Line to protect Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Tartour has denied supporting terrorism or inciting to violence.

Her “Resist” poem begins with the following lines (according to an English translation by Tariq al Haydar):

“Resist, my people, resist them, In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows, And carried the soul in my palm, For an Arab Palestine. I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution.’”

Regev has threatened several times in the past to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that appear to be disloyal to the Jewish state.

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