Arab artists anger Is­raeli of­fi­cials

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man So­bel­man is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — Only weeks into the term of Is­rael’s new gov­ern­ment, its con­ser­va­tive char­ac­ter is show­ing in the lat­est clash be­tween pol­i­tics and art in twin at­tempts to sanc­tion Arab Is­raeli the­aters.

Both moves were de­cried by crit­ics as un­demo­cratic cen­sor­ship while the of­fi­cials de­fended them as safe­guard­ing public moral­ity.

In one case, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Bennett or­dered the play “A Par­al­lel Time” re­moved from the so­called cul­ture bas­ket, the state-funded arts pack­age for school pupils.

Writ­ten by young Arab Is­raeli play­wright Bashar Murkus, the work was in­spired in part by the story of Walid Daka, an Arab cit­i­zen serv­ing a life sen­tence for his role in ab­duct­ing and killing Is­raeli sol­dier Moshe Ta­mam in 1984.

For more than a year, the play has run at Al Mi­dan. The Arab theater in the mixed north­ern city of Haifa re­ceives mu­nic­i­pal fund­ing that now is threat­ened af­ter a City Coun­cil mem­ber com­plained that the work glo­ri­fied a killer.

Murkus came across Daka’s story dur­ing re­search for his theater project and cor­re­sponded with him to learn more about his life in pri­son. Ac­cord­ing to Murkus, the play doesn’t dis­cuss the killing but deals more with the pass­ing of time in pri­son.

A panel of ed­u­ca­tors ap­pointed by the min­istry re­viewed the play and twice rec­om­mended it for stu­dents. How­ever, Bennett said he was us­ing his author­ity to drop the play, say­ing Is­raeli pupils would not at­tend a per­for­mance that shows tol­er­ance for the killing of sol­diers.

“Not in my school,” Bennett told re­porters.

The sec­ond con­tro­versy be­gan when Arab Is­raeli ac­tor Nor­man Issa asked to be ex­cused from per­form­ing in the Jor­dan Val­ley area of the West Bank, where a play in which he ap­pears was sched­uled to run. Is­rael seized the West Bank dur­ing the 1967 Mid­dle East War and its con­trol has been in­ter­na­tion­ally dis­puted since.

The play, a midlife com­edy called “Boomerang” from the reper­toire of the Haifa Theater, is not po­lit­i­cal. How­ever, Issa’s flag­ship theater may pay for his per­sonal pol­i­tics.

An­gered by Issa’s ob­jec­tion to per­form­ing in the West Bank, Cul­ture Min­is­ter Miri Regev said she is re­con­sid­er­ing her rec­om­men­da­tion that the min­istry sup­port the Elmina Theater in Jaffa, founded by Issa sev­eral years ago as a mul­ti­cul­tural venue for Arab and Jewish youths in the mixed com­mu­nity.

Regev told Is­rael Ra­dio on Wed­nes­day that she was ini­tially en­thu­si­as­tic about gov­ern­ment fund­ing for Elmina be­cause of its work to­ward co­ex­is­tence. How­ever, she said, “co­ex­is­tence doesn’t begin and end in Jaffa” and plu­ral­ism should ex­tend ev­ery­where.

“If he doesn’t ad­here to co­ex­is­tence in the Jor­dan Val­ley, I will re­think the co­ex­is­tence in his theater,” Regev said.

It’s not the first time Jewish ac­tors have fol­lowed their po­lit­i­cal con­science and asked to be ex­cused from per­form­ing in venues over the 1967 lines, such as the boy­cott of the theater in the set­tle­ment city of Ariel in 2010.

Issa, known to most Is­raelis for his role as Am­jad, the Arab an­ti­hero ea­ger to fit in with Jewish Is­raelis on the popular tele­vi­sion se­ries “Arab La­bor,” prac­tices plu­ral­ism and co­ex­is­tence both on­stage and off.

The ac­tor’s wife is Jewish. Mar­riage be­tween Arabs and Jews is not com­mon, and re­la­tions are of­ten heav­ily bur­dened by crit­i­cism from both so­ci­eties.

“As an Arab Is­raeli, you can­not ex­pect me to go against my con­science and per­form in dis­puted places,” he wrote on Face­book, not­ing that sim­i­lar re­quests of con­science were re­spected and the Jewish or Arab ac­tors were re­placed with a sub­sti­tute. He had asked for a re­place­ment sev­eral months ago, Issa said.

Faced with the threat of los­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing for his chil­dren’s theater, Issa said the pres­sure on him bor­dered on extortion and was un­fair.

“Please, do not force me to act against my con­science only to re­move this threat,” he wrote. “I still be­lieve in this coun­try and its laws, and the op­por­tu­nity it gives to all to ex­press their opin­ions and act in keep­ing with their con­science.”

Regev said that she sup­ports free­dom of ex­pres­sion in Is­rael, but at a time when Is­rael is fac­ing calls for in­ter­na­tional boy­cotts, the gov­ern­ment doesn’t have to sup­port sim­i­lar voices com­ing from within.

Speak­ing Tues­day at a film fes­ti­val in the town of Sderot, Regev em­pha­sized her com­mit­ment to plu­ral­ism that ex­presses di­verse po­si­tions but does not “blacken” Is­rael.

The min­is­ter promised to fight for in­creased bud­gets for arts and cul­ture. But when Is­rael is en­gaged in a diplo­matic front, “one must do what­ever is needed to stop those sup­ply­ing our enemies with ammunition.”

News re­ports said the min­is­ter was booed.

Link TV

AC­TORS Nor­man Issa and Clara Khoury in the “Arab La­bor” TV se­ries. His ob­jec­tion to per­form­ing in a dis­puted West Bank area may cost his theater fund­ing.

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