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Israel’s top court cancels bonus plan for artists performing in settlements

The High Court rules in favor of a petition that sought to end a policy of giving government bonuses to artists who performed in West bank settlements.
(FILES) A picture taken on August 30, 2010 shows a contractor speaking to an employee as they look at the plan of a newly built theater in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ariel. The controversial cultural centre will formally open on November 8, 2010 in the Ariel Jewish settlement as Israeli artists and academics urge a boycott in a row which has split Israel.  AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel's High Court canceled May 13 the bonus system put in place by Culture Minister Miri Regev for artists performing in West Bank settlements.

The ruling came on the Likud member's next-to-last day on the job; on May 14, the new national-unity government is to be sworn in and the culture portfolio is to go to a Blue and White member under the deal struck April 20 between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. It was unclear May 13 whether Regev would occupy another Cabinet post in the new government.

The 2-1 High Court ruling came in response to a petition filed in 2016 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The group contested rules put into place by Regev to offer preferential treatment and bonuses to artists and cultural institutions who performed in settlements.

The justices rejected Regev’s claim that incentives to artists performing in settlements were part of a Culture Ministry plan to encourage cultural performances in the periphery. “The justification for the alleged inequality in incentives for performances in the West Bank is that the area is part of the ‘cultural periphery’ and that institutions perform there less frequently than in other areas of the periphery. I looked at the arguments and data presented, and I found no evidence to support that argument,” wrote Justice Hanan Melcer.

Miri Regev is considered a hard-core Netanyahu loyalist. Her tenure as culture minister was marked by controversial statements and decisions and by repeated clashes with Israel’s artistic community.

Shortly after her appointment, in September 2015, Regev published new criteria for state support of cultural and sports institutions. Any groups negating the existence of the state of Israel as Jewish and democratic, any group deemed as inciting racism or violence and any group supporting assailants or terror perpetrators would see their state-funding canceled. The same went for groups marking the Palestinian Nakba day (the catastrophe) or calling for a boycott of Israel.

In 2016, Regev walked out of the Ophir awards ceremony for Israeli films when a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was performed. Earlier that year, she wanted to compel cultural and sports institutions built with state funding to fly the Israeli flag. In 2018, Regev decided to withdraw state support of the Haifa Story festival, organized by the Jewish-Arab Beit Hagefen Cultural Center, and the list goes on.

Regev’s pro-settlement right-wing agenda and her provocations earned her the support of many Likud members. But there were also many in Israel who considered her as an authentic representative of the periphery and of often marginalized Mizrahi Israelis, standing up to the artistic community long controlled by an Ashkenazi elite.

The court ruling marks an end of a complex, complicated era for Israel’s cultural institutions.

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