July 26, 2008

Israel's Artsy Secret Agents

The state of Israel is the paymaster of many kind of knaves: professional colonial officers, demographers and geographers, hitmen, colonization architects, doctors for torture, diplomats, etc.

But there is a special group of highly secret agents that aren't as famous as they deserve to be. You've probably met one of them. They go from festival to festival, from lecture to TV interview, they talk about peace and understanding, and they even criticize the occupation and the last war (but not this war, this war is different!). And they sell their wares: books, films, cds, performances. They are all very talented. And they work for the state of Israel.

Ytzhak Laor unveiled excerpts from the secret contract between Israeli artists and Israel's Foreign Ministry in Haaretz. Artists are referred to in the contract as "service providers." How nice! Less flattering terms have been used to describe more deserving people.

The foreign ministry pays its artists travel expenses as well as "Master artist" fees. In return, as the contract specifies:

"The service provider undertakes to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide the Ministry with the highest professional services. The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel." (Haaretz, June 25, 2008)
But these are secret agents, remember?
"The service provider will not present himself as an agent, emissary and/or representative of the Ministry."

I wonder if they number their agents? Is Amos Oz their 007? Or David Grossman perhaps? "Did you read agent 112's latest book? Marvelous wasn't it, a real triumph?"

So here's another reason for the cultural boycott of Israel's artists.

Now, you may think that some of these artists take the money and put it to good use. Possible. It has happened before. But probably not here. Israel is very good at supervising its artists and making sure they are the right kind:

The service provider undertakes to mention the name of the Ministry and/or Israeli representation in the abovementioned countries in any publication concerning the services provided by him, in Israel and abroad. He must also undertake: To provide the Ministry with a detailed report of the provision of services by him, including samples and evidence, as stated in subparagraph C, below (hereinafter, 'the services').
Artists with integrity need not apply. Ytzhak Laor tells how festivals who try to invite him as an Israeli poet always fails to secure funds. Ytzhak Laor, to put it in the most diminutive way possible, is the sole reason Hebrew should continue to exist as a living language. No wonder Israel would like to keep him out of sight.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against artists selling their soul to the devil. Each one of them know how much their own soul is worth. And if they sell it I assume they went through the numbers and it was a good deal for both sides.

But could they please sign the contract with their own blood?

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