JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s ultranationalist foreign minister Monday accused left-wing artists threatening to boycott a theater in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank of waging “cultural terrorism.”
Avigdor Lieberman demanded the artists be denied state funds. His remarks highlighted growing Israeli concern about a widening cultural boycott both at home and abroad, often citing Jewish settlements that Palestinians see as obstacles to Middle East peace talks.
With the anticipated opening of a government-funded theater Monday evening in the large settlement of Ariel, some Israeli artists who disapprove of the enclaves have renewed threats, first published in August, to refuse to appear there.
Lieberman, himself a settler, denounced the would-be boycotters as an “extremist group trying to wage cultural terrorism,” and urged an end to state support for critics who accuse Israel of being an “apartheid state.”
Some right-wing lawmakers have threatened to petition Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to immediately annex Ariel, near the West Bank city of Nablus. Israel has said it would seek to keep the settlement under any peace deal.
Netanyahu says some of Israel’s critics are trying to “delegitimize” the state.
Controversy over the theater came as U.S. leaders were expected to press Netanyahu, currently in New Orleans for meetings with Jewish fundraisers, to extend a moratorium on settlement building so that stalled peace talks may resume.
The negotiations reopened in early September after many months of deadlock but faltered three weeks later when Israel’s 10-month partial building freeze in the West Bank expired.
Palestinians say settlement growth denies them land they need for a viable state. Some 500,000 settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Celebrities from abroad have also refused visits to Israel recently, some citing policies toward Palestinians, such as British film director Mike Leigh who made such an announcement last month.
Some U.S. stars have continued visiting nonetheless, among them Pamela Anderson, currently in Jerusalem as part of an anti-fur campaign.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Mark Trevelyan