Right Wing Israeli Group Denounced For Blacklisting Cultural Figures

The government wants to cut funding to "disloyal" arts groups.

Israeli culture minister Miri Regev has been accused of trying to censor government critics. Photo DAN BALILTY/AFP/Getty Images.
Israeli culture minister Miri Regev has been accused of trying to censor government critics. Photo DAN BALILTY/AFP/Getty Images.

A campaign by an Israeli right-wing group targeting artists has focused attention on wider government-backed measures to pressurize critics of Israel within the arts.

The billboard campaign, initiated by the group Im Tirtzu labelled several Israeli cultural figures as “leftwing moles,” and “infiltrators inside [Israeli] culture.”

The group also published a blacklist of 117 artists, writers, performers and intellectuals who oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Writers David Grossman and Amos Oz were included on the list, as well as actress Gila Almagor. These figures were reportedly singled out because of their roles on the public advisory board of the human rights group B’Tselem, which monitors Israeli activity in the Occupied Territories.

Im Tirtzu singled out prominent writer and peace activist David Grossman. Photo: Televisão Cultura via Flickr

Im Tirtzu singled out prominent writer and peace activist David Grossman.
Photo: Televisão Cultura via Flickr

At the same time the Israeli culture minister Miri Regev, of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is preparing to pass a bill ensuring only cultural organizations “loyal” to the state would be eligible for government funding, the Independent reported. The proposed legislation has already provoked strong criticism from European Union officials over censorship concerns.

Meanwhile, cultural figures and opposition politicians have compared the campaign by Im Tirtzu to U.S Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunt of the 1950s. They are condemning what they see as the Israeli Government and their political allies attempting to silence their critics.

According to the Guardian, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog said “This Israeli McCarthyism and the losers spearheading it will disappear just like it did in the US. The question is when, and what will it cost us.”

Gila Almagor, one of the signatoriesPhoto via Ido Lavi on Flickr

Gila Almagor is on the blacklist
Photo via Ido Lavi on Flickr

Others have raised suspicions over the coinciding of Im Tirtzu’s campaign and the Israeli Government’s efforts to pass its controversial arts funding bill. Regev, Netanyahu, and education minister Naftali Bennet have all publicly spoken out against Im Tirtzu’s campaign, although all have come under criticism for attempting to control the arts in the past.

Benny Begin, the prominent parliamentarian and son of former Israeli prime minster Menachim Begin, labelled Im Tirtzu’s campaign as “fascist.”

“This new activity of the Im Tirtzu denouncing ‘moles in culture’ marks a new record for ugliness […] This is an attempt to plant the word ‘mole’ in the public’s mind as a synonym for traitor.”

“Seeking out, locating and labelling ostensible traitors is an ancient fascist symptom. It is both ugly and dangerous,” he stressed.

The controversy has erupted at a time when free speech in the arts has come under repeated international scrutiny.

A censorship raid took place at an Egyptian arts non-profit in December, Turkey’s SALT art center was rumored to have closed under government pressure at the start of the year, and last week Lebanese curator Christine Tohme’s passport renewal was denied.


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