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Cultural Policy and Infrastructure

Whilst no cultural policy document currently exists for the State of Israel, detailed guidelines exist for the operation of all key government departments and national agencies concerned with the funding and administration of culture and the arts.

The cultural portfolio in Israel is currently administered by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, which is based in Jerusalem. The key cultural arm of the Ministry is the Culture and Arts Administration (CAA), which works in close co-operation with three national institutions – the National Council for Culture and Arts, the Council of Museums and the Council of Public Libraries. The Ministry also incorporates a Religious Cultural Department which deals with the general development of Jewish culture, and an Orthadox Cultural Department which deals principally with the study of the Torah.

Established in 1959 and appointed annually by the Minister of Education, Culture and Sports, the National Council for Culture and the Arts is a public body of some 170 leading figures drawn from all walks of cultural life, which meets on a monthly basis to establish criteria for the allocation of government subsidy to Israel’s cultural and artistic institutions and to channel advice and recommendations to the Ministry on all aspects of cultural policy and cultural development. The Council is divided into sector committees comprising a maximum of 20 persons each and specialising in Arab Culture, Druze Heritage.Dance, Film, Literature, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts

In practice most of the activities of the Council are led by the Culture and Arts Administration (CAA), which is charged with responsibility for national cultural development, for encouraging, initiating and developing new projects in the arts and for channelling government subsidy to arts organisations throughout the country. The principal office of the CAA is the Culture and Arts Division, which incorporates Departments of Arab Culture, Druze Heritage, Dance, Literature, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Museums and Libraries. These correspond to and work in conjunction with the sector committees of the National Council for Culture and the Arts and with the Councils of Museums and of Public Libraries. The main objective of the Culture and Arts Division is to ensure that Israel’s cultural institutions receive their subsidy on time and have sufficient funds to continue functioning at an optimum level. For this purpose, at the time of writing just over NIS 300 million (US$ 80 million) is allocated each year by the Knesset as part of the budget allocation of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports to cover all aspects of culture and the arts.

In recent years considerable argument has taken place regarding the dominance of western culture in Israeli society. Some critics have accused the CAA of channelling arts funding in ways which strengthen that culture, claiming that inadequate support is provided for cultural expression amongst such communities as the Arabs (who make up nearly 18% of the total population) and the Mizrahi Jews (who are believed to constitute as much as 50% of the total population). For its part the Culture and Arts Administration points out that no one sector, be it Arab or Jewish-Mizrahi, receives money from just one source to meet its culture-related needs. In addition to the CAA, budgetary sources for the provision of public funding for cultural activities include other divisions of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence, municipal, regional and local authorities and the lottery. They claim that it is impossible to calculate how much each sector receives since they rarely budget by sector and have no knowledge of the monies each sector, be it Askenazi, Mizrahi or Arab, has received from other sources. The on-going debate on the funding of Israel’s ethnic cultures has been complicated by the fact that a substantial number of arts practitioners in Israel’s Arab community remain unwilling to make use of what government funding does exist for fear that their participation will be used by the Israeli authorities as propaganda.

Whilst there is a Film Sector within the National Council for Culture and the Arts, the Culture and Arts Division of the CAA does not directly fund Israeli film production and therefore has no film department. However, it does channel limited subsidy to a number of film foundations and supports the Ma’ale (religious) and Sam Spiegel (secular) film schools in Jerusalem, the Israel Film Archive at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and several film festivals. Three film development agencies also work in conjunction with the CAA – the Israel Film Institute is responsible for representing, fostering and evaluating Israeli cinematographic art; the newly-independent Israel Film Service functions as a government film and television production and distribution centre; and Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Israel Film Center is charged with attracting foreign film-makers to Israel.

A number of other agencies have been established by the government to assist in the development of Israeli culture. These include the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is responsible for the preservation, restoration and protection of Israel’s historical and archaeological sites; the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which regulates broadcasting in Israel; the Israel Music Institute, which disseminates information about and publishes and promotes original Israeli music; the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, which to date has translated and published the cream of Hebrew literature in about 40 different languages; and a number of other institutions including the Jewish National and University Library and the Israel Archives.

One of the most important of these agencies is Omanut La’am, which traces its origins back to a 1950s scheme to introduce Israeli culture to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants in the development towns and transit camps. Operating in close co-operation with the CAA, it funds a wide range of music, theatre, dance, literature, visual arts and film activities, touring them to outlying districts in conjunction with workshops and seminars aimed at making the arts more accessible to the general public. Omanut La’am’s most interesting and successful project is the ‘Cultural Basket’ programme, which aims to introduce arts and culture to young Israelis, to encourage enjoyment of and participation in cultural activities from an early age and to foster the development of personal taste and the capacity for critical evaluation of art. The programme requires every child from kindergarten through to 12th grade to attend performances, art films and/or art exhibitions five or six times each year as part of their curriculum; 50% of the ticket cost is subsidised and transportation is arranged. The artistic activities of the ‘Cultural Basket’ are accompanied by educational materials for teachers and pupils, consultancy on educational matters and a series of study days. Omanut La’am also organises various after-school activities at community-orientated schools.

Sometimes compared to the British Council, the Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs (DCSA) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem is Israel’s principal agency for cultural and scientific relations overseas. Its Department of Arts and Literature comprises Music, Literature, Performing Arts, Film and Video and Visual Arts Units which work closely with cultural attachés in Israeli embassies around the world with a view to promoting Israel culture and arts through the sponsorship of overseas tours by Israeli artists and the organisation of various Israeli cultural promotions and festivals. Its Department of Cultural and Scientific Agreements also plays an important role, cultivating cultural relations with foreign countries at both academic and non-academic levels and co-ordinating relations with supra-national organisations and NGOs dealing with science, education and culture, such as the European Union, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The Division also incorporates the Israel-Iberia Cultural Institute, which co-ordinates Israeli cultural activity (particularly music, visual arts, public lectures and film) in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

Other government ministries involved in the aspects of national cultural administration include the Ministry of Tourism, which is currently working with the CAA to develop model cultural itineraries geared to overseas visitors; and the Ministry of Defence, which operates several military museums, has its own orchestras and operates a ‘Sunday of Culture’ programme for IDF soldiers.

Each of Israel’s municipal governments has its own department of culture. Settlement towns and larger municipalities channel subsidy to cultural institutions within their own areas, whilst major cities such as Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Tel Aviv-Yafo), Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’ersheva run some of the country’s leading arts organisations, including cinematheques, theatres and music conservatories. Such organisations are part-funded by the municipalities and the CAA. This municipal government provision is complemented in many major conurbations by the cultural activities of the national network of community centres (matnasim in Hebrew), run by the Israel Association of Community Centers (IACC).

Limited provision for culture is also made by both regional and local governments, but cultural activity in the countryside is mainly focused on the kibbutzim. The two largest Kibbutz federations – the United Kibbutz (TAKAM) Movement and the Kibbutz Artzi Movement – both have cultural offices which co-ordinate the activities of kibbutz auditoria, galleries, museums and performing troupes throughout the country. They also collaborate through the Federation of Kibbutz Movements, which runs an active cultural programme.