Miri Regev threatens to pull gov't funds from Israel Festival over nudity
Minister of Culture and Sport is threatening to cut state funding from the prestigious Israel Festival over nudity which she claims 'is contrary to and violates the basic values of the Israeli public and the State of Israel'; Artists and performers fume, accusing Regev of censuring freedom of expression for political gains.
"I didn't hear anything about 'nude shows' in the budget items," wrote Regev on her Facebook page. "I do not intend to fund nude shows using the state budget."
In recent years, Regev has frequently attacked and confronted Israeli artists, especially those deemed to be leftwing supporters. However, this time, Regev is coming out against the festival itself, which was previously supported by the government to the tune of NIS 4.3 million following performances by non-Israeli artists invited to the event.
In a letter sent to the festival's General Director, Eyal Sher, Regev said, "First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the development of the Israel Festival in recent years and its transformation into an international festival and an important center of culture and creativity. However, I was surprised to hear that full nude performances will be held this year as an integral part of the performances offered to the Israeli public."
Regev went on to explain that such a display was inimical to core Israeli values. "A fully nude performance—even when it is part of artistic expression—is contrary to, and violates, the basic values of the Israeli public and the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state," she said.
Specifically, Regev is referring to two works incorporating nudity that are slated to appear in the festival: The theatrical piece "And what will I do with this sword?" by Spanish artist Angelica Liddell and "Pindorama," by Lia Rodrigues of Brazil.
Rodrigues is due to speak at the opening event of the festival and emphasizes that festival directors have the right to make their own artistic choices.
However, Regev cited "freedom of funding"—a term often employed by Regev in many of her recent struggles, which allows her to refrain from allocating state funds to the festival for performances she defines as contrary to the values of the state.
"The state's budget cannot be used for activities that harm society's values and identity," wrote Regev. "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's behavior has raised ire in artistic circles, with many claiming that she is attempting to harm freedom of expression and creativity in order to advance a political agenda.
"It's a criterion that has nothing to do with art," said actor Dror Keren. "There is censorship and conditions dictated from above, 'Do this, or you won't get money.' Naked art does not hurt the public's feelings. No one forces 'the public' to see something it doesn't want to, and there are all kinds of 'publics.' This type of censuring harms the public and the need for art and the human body is not something to be ashamed of, hide or censor."
In response to Regev, festival director Sher said, "As the minister noted in her letter, the festival's performances, which have an element of nudity, are indeed an integral part of the artistic program. It should be emphasized that these performances are abstract performances, meaning, they do not exist in the open public space, and we clearly and prominently note in the program that they include nudity, precisely because we take into account the public that may not be interested in these performances."
(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg)