Battle over Free Speech for Artists and Writers in Israel

In mid-April, pots began banging over Parallel Time, a production for which the state froze Haifa-based al-Midan Theatre’s financing. The state also began an investigation into the theatre’s financing, and the Education Ministry effectively banned the play from schools, retracting the work’s eligibility for subsidized performances for students:

This happened when the Palestinian play, which depicts the life of a prisoner, was sur-titled in Hebrew. The Education Ministry, under Naftali Bennett, intervened to stop the play in schools.

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After that, the culture ministry threatened to cut funds for a Jaffa children’s theatre because its Palestinian founder, Norman Issa, refused to perform in a settlement.

And a recent statement from Israel’s new Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, trans. +972, states that “Institutions that delegitimize the State of Israel will not receive funding. …. As minister of culture it’s my job to ensure a diversity of voices in Israeli society, [but] currently we are in the midst of a diplomatic campaign and we must do everything possible to stop giving ammunition to our enemies.”

It’s sparked a wave of protest from Israeli artists, 2,000 of whom signed a petition “warning against what they call anti-democratic measures being taken by the government against freedom of expression,” according to The Guardian. 

Well-known Israeli novelist David Grossman, for instance, told Haaretz, “There are so many things to say, and yet Miri Regev has demarcated a field of discourse that is no wider than the opened blades of the censor’s scissors.”

This came on the heels of the Knesset celebrating its first ever “Arab Book Day,” where MK Issawi Frej called for greater support for Arabic literature, according to The Algemeiner. This project, which includes a digital library of Palestinian literature, seems little likely.

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