JERUSALEM, Israel - The last thing Israel needs is a boycott from within, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet ministers at Sunday's meeting, referring to a group of actors, directors and writers threatening to boycott a new cultural center in Ariel.
The issue arose last week after the Israeli daily Ha'aretz published a report on Israel's leading theater companies that would be performing there.
In response to the report, more than 30 actors, playwrights and directors signed a letter saying they would boycott the center and any other theaters outside the "green line," the pre-1967 armistice lines, according to Haaretz.
Clearly, the issue touched a nerve that crossed political lines.
"The State of Israel is under an attack of de-legitimization by elements in the international community," Netanyahu said. "The last thing we need at this time is an attempted boycott from within," he said.
"I do not want to deny the right of any person or any artist to hold a political opinion… but we, as a government, do not need to fund boycotts directed at Israeli citizens in any manner whatsoever," Netanyahu said.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the government should withdraw funding from any theater group refusing to perform in Ariel or anywhere else in Israel.
"The State of Israel invests a lot of money in theaters," Steinitz said. "The taxes helping theaters exist are paid by Ariel residents, as well, and those sabotaging this should not be employed in Israel," he said.
"It's unthinkable that 'Mr. Artist' received money from the State to establish a theater and then says, 'I'll perform in Tel Aviv, but I won't perform in Ariel and other places.'"
Over the weekend, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) issued a statement denouncing the threatened boycott.
"This creates a rift in society and discrimination between audiences on the basis of the political opinions of the artists," Livni stated.
"Culture is a social bridge, and the political debate must be left outside of cultural and artistic life," she said.
"Every citizen has the right to culture anywhere they want," Livni said.
Several prominent theatre owners also rejected the proposed boycott.
"We will respect our actors' political views, but we will bring the best plays in Israeli theater to Ariel," the managers of two of Israel's leading theaters said in a joint statement.