Israel culture minister probes troupes that shun settlements

AP News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2016 7:14 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's polarizing culture minister has dispatched a contested questionnaire to theaters and dance troupes to find out whether they are performing in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a first step toward changing regulations that will allow her to penalize cultural institutions that refuse to perform there.

Miri Regev's office said Wednesday she is proud to lead a "revolution" that shuns boycotts and makes culture accessible to all Israeli citizens. Critics, however, say it's politicizing the art world and impinging artistic freedom.

Regev has had a fraught relationship with the cultural community since her appointment last year and has been accused of attempting to bring Israeli artists in line with her hawkish political ideology.

Last year, Regev froze funding for a theater that staged a play depicting Palestinian security prisoners and was inspired by the life of a man who kidnapped, tortured and killed an Israeli soldier in 1984.

Israeli artists, like their counterparts worldwide, tend to lean liberal, and have long been some of the country's most vocal critics of the settlements.

In the circulated document, various artistic institutions are asked whether they have refrained from performing in the northern and southern peripheries of the country as well as in West Bank settlements.

Regev has said these results will influence the organizations' future government funding.

"Minister Regev is leading a policy of incentivizing state-supported cultural institutions to perform in the periphery and Judea and Samaria, based on a view that culture is a basic right of all citizens," her office said in a statement.

Dov Khenin, an opposition lawmaker, said Regev is cynically exploiting the public's positive sentiments toward northern and southern Israeli communities to boost the settlements instead.

"The government is not interested in artists and cultural institutions that 'boycott the Negev and the Galil,' as there are none of these, but rather artists and cultural institutions who do not want to support the illegal settlement enterprise," Khenin said in a statement.