Israeli national theatre under pressure for upcoming West Bank performance

(JTA) – The Israeli national theatre, Habima, will perform in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, sparking protests on social media by academics and artists.

The November 10 performance of “A Simple Story,” a play based on a Hebrew short novel by 1966 Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, reportedly will be the first time that the theatre has brought its actors to the settlement near Hebron, home to 7,000 Jewish residents.

“The theatre’s management rejects in disgust any call to exclude citizens and exclude towns, and condemns any attempt to culturally boycott any place where Israeli citizens live. The Habima Theatre is the national theatre of the state of Israel,” the theatre said in a statement, published in Haaretz.

Under Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev, theatres and other cultural organizations that perform in settlements receive a 10 per cent bonus, while those that refuse can face a one-third cut in their government funding.

Habima performed in the West Bank city of Ariel at the opening of a new community cultural centre in 2010, amid widespread objection. It is scheduled to perform “A Simple Story” in Ariel in March.

Haim Weiss, a senior lecturer in Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, first brought the performance to the attention of his followers on Facebook in a recent post.

“The willingness of the theatre, its employees and actors to take part in the process of normalizing the occupation and turning Kiryat Arba into just another city where they’re performing is very disturbing,” Weiss wrote.

“Are the theatre’s economic difficulties and the hope that a performance in Hebron will encourage the culture minister and other ministers to help the theatre what’s leading to the performance in Kiryat Arba-Hebron?” he also wrote.

Regev responded in a statement published on Ynet:  “The decision to perform for the first time in Hebron exemplifies the national theatre’s being a central pioneer in treating all citizens of the state as equal in their right to experience culture. I encourage Habima for its strong stance against the wave of criticism from the left, and am sorry to see elements in our land act as the lowliest of BDS bullies. Since entering my office, I have led a policy of cultural justice as part of which culture in Israel will be made available to every citizen as a basic right, and I’m happy to see (this) vision made real.”

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