Never shy to bash Israel’s right-wing, Ruth Margalit in the New York Times paints this somewhat unflattering portrait of Miri Regev, culture minister in the curent Netanyahu government.But Regev is more than a minister, she is leading a cultural war against Israel’s highbrow Ashkenazi elite. It is a war where the NYT is firmly on the side of the elitists. See my comment below (with thanks: Henry):
The Tel Aviv Museum of art is a somber slab of concrete built in the no-fuss brutalist style of the late ’60s. The architect who planned the museum also designed Israel’s nuclear reactor; such is the overlap between culture and political exigency in the country.
One Sunday in March, a throng of artists, actors and writers clustered in the museum’s main auditorium. They were awaiting the arrival of Miri Regev, Israel’s culture and sports minister, of the ruling Likud Party. A year earlier, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and the chairman of Likud, secured a fourth term in office and swore in his ministers, a coalition widely regarded as the most right-wing in Israeli history.
In that time, Regev has done just about everything she can to alienate and enrage those she considers the elites, or the “cultural junta,” of Israel. Leftists. Secularists. Tel Avivians. Ashkenazim — Jews of European origin. People who, as she told me recently, think that “classical music is better than the Andalusian music” of Morocco, or that “Chekhov is more important than Maimonides.”
Miri Regev, culture warrior (photo: Uri Sinai)
Regev, who is 51, grew up in Kiryat Gat, a development town in Israel’s south, which — like many other towns in Israel’s peripheria, or periphery, the areas outside the country’s urban center — was set up in the 1950s to house the influx of Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries. In person she is warm; after two minutes of conversation she will call you kapara (“sweetheart” in Jewish Moroccan dialect) or neshama (“soul” in Hebrew). Yet in public life she comes across as crass and hotheaded.
That afternoon in the museum, she was venturing into hostile territory. She had agreed to speak at an arts-and-culture conference organized by the liberal newspaper Haaretz to address the interplay of state funding and cultural production. Many of those in attendance wondered if Regev had come to make amends: Shortly after her appointment, at a meeting with stage actors and guild representatives, Regev all but acknowledged being driven by a sense of political vendetta. “We got 30 seats” — in the Knesset — “you got only 20,” she told those present. She later gave an interview in which she called the Israeli creative class “tight-assed” and “ungrateful.”
When at last Regev materialized, wearing an all-black ensemble and crimson lipstick, a murmur swept through the auditorium. She is a striking, fiery presence with wide-set eyes, prominent lips and dark hair streaked with reddish highlights. Standing in front of the audience, her expression set between a smirk and a scowl, she clutched the lectern with one hand. “I was always told to start a speech with a quote; it makes for a cultured impression,” she began. “So here goes. As the famed Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once put it” — she switched to accented English — “Cut the bullshit! Cut the bullshit!”
My comment: The article’s title: the Commissar of Culture” tells you all you need to know about Miri Regev. Vulgar, unsophisticated, she is a stalinist and a populist, an opportunist who would have joined any party just to gain power. She rose through the ranks of the military as a censor. Her role as culture minister is therefore ‘Macarthyist censorship’ – politicising the funding of art in order to promote her own pro-settler, anti-Arab, ‘right-wing’ agenda. The NYT can no longer brand theMizrahim as the victims of the Ashkenazi establishment.Suddenly, they are the establishment. One would have expected the leftist New York Times to support Regev’s anti-elitist revolution: but no, the reporter sees her as reactionary and anti-Palestinian. There is little attempt to understand how her Mizrahi background has shaped her views. She is seen fraternising with the wrong kind of Arab – not the ‘moderate’ MK Ayman Odeh, for whom Shimon Peres was not enough of a peacemaker for Odeh to turn up at his funeral – but the kind who are willing to reach an accommodation with the Zionist state.