Israeli national theater under pressure for upcoming West Bank performance
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Israeli national theater under pressure for upcoming West Bank performance

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli national theater, 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 theater has brought its actors to the settlement near Hebron, home to 7,000 Jewish residents.

“The theater’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 theater of the state of Israel,” the theater said in a statement, published in Haaretz.

Under Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev, theaters and other cultural organizations that perform in settlements receive a 10 percent 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 center 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 theater, 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 theater’s economic difficulties and the hope that a performance in Hebron will encourage the culture minister and other ministers to help the theater 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 theater’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.”