Culture Minister Miri Regev’s threat to pull funding for the Israel Festival if the annual event continues to invite acts featuring nudity did not go over well with the audience — in fact, it was met with naked opposition on Thursday night.
The controversial minister was subjected to sustained booing, a crowd that turned its back on her and, at least one protester stripping to her underwear, as she tried to give her opening remarks at Israel’s premier annual arts event.
“I oppose funding creative works that are harmful to the public in the state of Israel and to its foundational values,” she began. “It’s destructive and harmful,” she said over boos from the crowd that continued unabated for some ten minutes. “I never said I’d cancel it, but I won’t finance it. I will not support nude shows.”
As Regev appeared on stage, many of the concert goers seated at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, awaiting a night of live Israeli music, stood and turned their backs on her. Others jeered and whistled.
“That’s your right,” said Regev, “this is a democracy.”
One woman stripped down to her bra in protest at the minister’s anti-nudity stance. Another yelled at Regev that the ballgown she wore to the Cannes Film Festival, featuring iconic images from Jerusalem in honor of the city’s 50th reunification anniversary, was “ugly.”
As the crowed continued to boo the minister, she vowed that “I won’t leave this stage until after I’ve finished what I have to say,” and declared that her vocal opponents were delaying their show by booing her speech.
Israel Festival director Eyal Sher had asked the crowd ahead of time to tone down its response, reminding everyone “that this is a cultural event; calm down, everyone.”
He came out again during Regev’s speech to ask the crowd to settle down.
Regev sparked the row when she said earlier this week that her office would not subsidize shows “harmful to the basic values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The Israel Festival is the country’s largest and most important interdisciplinary arts festival, featuring performances by domestic and international artists.
In a letter Tuesday to Sher, Regev wrote that full nudity — even in the framework of art — offended many people in Israeli society.
While the festival and audiences could make their own choices, “state funding cannot be distributed to activities detrimental to the values of society and its identity,” Regev wrote to Sher.
This year two productions — “Pindorama” from Brazil and Spain’s “And what will I do with this sword?” — feature nudity.
Sher stressed that both of these shows were only for those who had purchased tickets and were staged in auditoriums, not “in the wider public sphere.”
“We state clearly on all marketing material which performances include nudity, specifically because we are sensitive to those who might not be interested in such shows,” he said on Thursday.
Sher said the organizers were not considering changing the program, and noted that the ministry’s funding enabled the festival to “bring the most original, contemporary, innovative, daring materials based purely on artistic considerations.”
The Culture Ministry provides approximately 20 percent of the festival’s budget, which Sher said was under NIS 10 million ($2.82 million, 2.51 million euros).
Regev, formerly the army’s chief spokeswoman and censor, has taken upon herself to rattle Israel’s art establishment, which she considers to be uninclusive and leftist.
Cultural figures in Israel accuse Regev of seeking to muzzle them, including trying to advance a bill that would cut subsidies to institutions deemed not “loyal.” That bill was never finalized.