Culture Minister Miri Regev booed at Israel Festival opening over funding threats

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev was booed by the audience at the opening of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem in the wake of threats to withhold funds from performances that feature nudity.

Regev was booed for several minutes, and many in the audience turned their back on her while she spoke.

The festival, showcasing dance, music, drama and performance theatre from Israel and around the world, runs through June 18. It is in its 56th year.

On Tuesday, Regev, of the ruling Likud Party, sent a letter to the Festival warning that her office would not fund any performances that included full frontal nudity, calling such displays “detrimental to the basic values of the Israeli public and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”  She also said it hurts the feelings of the wider public.

“The state’s budget cannot be used for activities that harm society’s values and identity,” Regev wrote. “As is customary in American law and in other countries, there is no connection between freedom of expression and creative freedom, which are important and protected rights, and the imposition of a financial obligation on the state in relation to any artistic work.”

Regev has previously threatened to withdraw funding from Israeli artists who are critical of Israel or support the Palesitnian cause.

Festival Director-General Eyal Sher responded in a statement in which he thanked the Culture Ministry for its financial support.

“As Regev wrote in her letter, festival presentations that have an element of nudity are indeed an integral part of the artistic program. We emphasize that such performances take place in auditoriums and are only available to those who buy tickets. In other words, they do not take place in the wider public sphere. We state clearly on all our marketing materials which performances include nudity, specifically because we are sensitive to those who might not be interested in such shows. This public is invited to choose among a wide variety of renowned shows that will take place over the three-week festival,” Sher said.

Two shows this year include nudity.

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