By ILAN BEN ZION , Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's culture minister has threatened to pull funding for a major arts festival over performances with full frontal nudity, saying such displays harm "Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
Miri Regev told the Israel Festival in a letter that she will withdraw funding for the three-week event opening Thursday unless the two shows featuring nudity are canceled.
Nudity "is contrary to and harms the basic values" of Israeli society and "the sensitivities of broad populations," she said in the letter.
The festival is the country's major art exhibition held in Jerusalem featuring live musical, theater, dance and visual art. The city is home to substantial Orthodox Jewish and religious Muslim populations, for whom nudity is taboo.
Festival director Eyal Sher said that performances with nudity are an "integral part of the artistic programs." He said the show will go ahead as planned. He noted the performances do not take place out in the open and that the audience can choose which shows to attend.
The festival website informs visitors that Pindorama, a Brazilian dance routine, and a Spanish play "And what will I do with this sword?" both contain nudity.
The Culture and Sport Ministry provides around 20 percent of the annual festival's $2.8 million budget, and the event met the ministry's criteria for support, organizers said.
Regev, a former military censor-turned-politician from the nationalist Likud Party, has had a series of clashes with Israel's liberal cultural establishment in her current post.
Last year, the ruling Likud minister instituted a new measure to cut funding for cultural institutions that do not perform in West Bank settlements, causing outrage. She also froze funds to an Arabic-language theater in Haifa for its production of a play that she claims incites violence against Israeli soldiers.
Gila Almagor, a celebrated Israeli actress, decried Regev's ultimatum to the Israel Festival as "censorship."
Regev's office did not respond to Associated Press' requests for comment.
Later Thursday evening, Regev spoke on stage at the opening of the festival when the crowd loudly jeered and booed her.