Actor Oded Kotler, who insulted millions of Israelis by comparing uncultured nationalists to “a herd of beasts,” told Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev Sunday that he cannot be forced to make an appearance in the Jordan Valley. That area, he said, was not part of Israel, and he only made appearances in Israel, he told Regev and President Reuven Rivlin.
“That's 'abroad,'” Kotler said of the Jordan Valley, using the common Hebrew acronym “chul.” Rivlin stressed to Kotler that the Jordan Valley was indeed a part of Israel – and that much of it was located within the 1948 armistice lines. Listening in, Regev said that “if I had mentioned that they would have accused me of politicizing the discussion.”
Kotler, Regev, Rivlin, and a number of representatives from the “Tel Aviv in-crowd” of musicians, actors, playwrights, and other cultural figures, gathered at the President's House Sunday at Rivlin's invitation, as the president sought to reduce the tension between Regev and Israel's artistic community.
The brouhaha broke out last week when Kotler, one of Israel's best known actors, mocked Regev at an artists' rally that was held to protest the new government's policy that no funding would go to artists who boycott the state. That rally took place after Regev said she was defunding the Jaffa-based Elmina Theater after its founder, Norman Issa, said he would not perform in the Jordan Valley.
'Straw and stubble'
“Imagine your world, Mrs. Regev,” Kotler said, “as a quiet world, with no book, no music, no poem, a world with no one to disturb… no one to disturb the nation, in its celebration of 30 mandates, followed by a marching herd of beasts chewing straw and stubble.”
The comments were slammed by both coalition and opposition MKs, with Regev insisting that she was not trying to shut anyone up, but just trying to use taxpayers' money wisely by withholding government funding from projects that supported Israel's enemies. Supporters of Kotler and others who demand full funding for any and every project, regardless of the will of the people, have sharply criticized Regev at several public venues over the past week. The Sunday meeting was meant to patch things up between Regev and the artistic community.
Regev said that she had stressed that she was fully in favor of freedom of expression – but that she, as a public servant, was obligated to spend the public's money in the way the public, not she or anyone else, saw fit. Few Israelis, according to polls and the makeup of the Knesset, support efforts by foreign or local groups to boycott Israelis, no matter where they live – so, Regev said, she could not in good conscience fund organizations that boycott people or places in Israel.
“My emphasis is on funding culture in all parts of Israel, including the geographic and social periphery,” she said. “I want all Israelis, Jews and Arabs, in all parts of the country to enjoy cultural events, without any issues of boycotts.”