Israel's culture minister insults artists, cultural figures

Bashar Murkus

Israel's culture minister, who has clashed with the country's artistic elite over accusations of censorship, has further fuelled the dispute by calling some of them "petty bores" and "hypocrites".
On Friday, less than two weeks after she sparked outrage over a threat to cut funding for a children's theatre, cultural figures held a protest as she arrived at a theatre awards ceremony in Tel Aviv. Miri Regev's threats and blunt dismissal of her political opponents have come to symbolise, for some, a rightward shift by Israel's government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The world of culture is an ungrateful world," she said in a recorded interview with a women's magazine which was broadcast Friday on radio. "I say to myself, who am I working for? For a group of ungrateful people who think they know everything, some of them petty bores, hypocrites."
In the printed interview with At magazine, published on Thursday, she says she reluctantly took on the job of culture minister after March elections. "I knew why I didn't want to take this post," she said. "I knew I was going to work for vainglorious people."
Not afraid of an argument, the former general and chief army censor said on June 9 she would "reconsider" state funding to the children's theatre in Tel Aviv's mixed Arab-Jewish neighbourhood of Jaffa. Her comments came after its Arab-Israeli director, Norman Issa, refused to participate in a play in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Regev has also ordered an examination of another theatre's books after it staged a play (“A Parallel Time”, by Bashar Murkus) whose plot has close similarities to the life of Walid Daqqa, a Palestinian serving time for the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier.
Arab-Israeli actress, dancer and video artist Raida Alon said she organised Friday's demonstration at the awards ceremony in Tel Aviv's Einav cultural centre over what she called government attempts to muzzle performers.
"There's starting to be a very uncomfortable atmosphere here, a kind of dictatorship where you can't feel freedom," she said. "It's getting to the point where they threaten you if you simply express an opinion."
Video footage showed a small group of demonstrators, some with sticking plaster over their mouths, holding a silent vigil outside the venue and erupting into boos when Regev arrived, escorted by police. Actor Ishai Golan, one of the demonstrators, said the actions by Netanyahu's new right-wing coalition were "very, very worrying."
Writing in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, commentator Yoaz Hendel mocked the minister.
"Culture in Israel has never before enjoyed such good times. Ever since Miri Regev became culture minister, everyone is taking an interest in plays and movies," he said. "Regev is acting like a bull in a china shop. Maybe like a bear among ballerinas."