Israel’s Culture Ministry Bans Gov’t-funded Events on Shabbat in Peripheral Municipalities

The initiative dubbed ‘Israeli Shabbat’ was meant to help municipalities in Israel’s periphery to bring more residents to attend cultural events on the weekend; now local officials are being informed that they must cease holding these events altogether

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Culture Minister Miki Zohar in December.
Culture Minister Miki Zohar in December.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Culture and Sports Ministry has ordered municipalities in Israel’s periphery not to hold activities and events on Shabbat for free or for a subsidized fee on weekends. Until now, the municipalities could hold activities throughout the weekends regardless of Sabbath hours.

The directive from the ministry seeks to discontinue a project begun under the former Culture Minister Chili Tropper to operate cultural events throughout the country on Shabbat.

Tropper’s initiative – “Israeli Shabbat” – is a project launched by the ministry in 2021 to strengthen Israeli culture, under which museums and heritage sites were opened to the public and activities were held in municipalities throughout the country – free of charge and at subsidized costs. In addition, the project includes a series of designated cultural events and activities for peripheral municipalities under the title “Israeli Culture Weekend,” in conjunction with “Culture for the Periphery,” another Culture Ministry project.

Last week, culture coordinators at peripheral municipalities received notice from the Israel Association of Community Centers (a public corporation) stating that under order from the Culture and Sports Ministry, they must cease holding culture activities under the program on the Sabbath.

An email sent to the coordinators last Thursday stated that “According to Culture Ministry instruction, no subsidized activities under the series are to be held from the time Shabbat begins at 5 p.m. until an hour after Shabbat ends. It is your responsibility to see that it is not held during these hours.”

Former Culture Minister Chili Tropper at the ministry handover ceremony earlier this January.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Officials at one peripheral municipality with mostly secular residents told Haaretz that the events held under the Israeli Culture Weekend project are particularly attractive, as they are subsidized at a 90 percent rate.

A source at one municipality who spoke with Haaretz said that they were astonished to receive such a notice from the Israel Center of Community Associations. The source said that the activities held under the program are highly successful, due to the fact that they are held on the weekend as well as that most residents in the area are secular.

“It's unclear why the Culture Ministry chose to violate a status-quo of many years. If you want to make culture accessible to the periphery, it’s a shame to do it by diktat and not in cooperation and coordination, in accordance with each locality’s needs,” said a source at another municipality.

The Israeli Association of Community Centers said in response that “The IACC has been chosen by public tender to operate the Culture and Sports Ministry’s project Spirit of Culture. In regard to your question and any question on the subject, please contact the Ministry.”

The Culture and Sports Ministry said that they were reviewing the Israeli Shabbat project.

A notice published on social media by the Council for Preservation of Heritage Sites in Israel stated that the Israeli Shabbat project will cease operation at the end of the month “to prepare and organize for 2023.”

In response to a query from Haaretz, the Council stated that “The current budget for Israeli Shabbat ends on January 31. The Sites Preservation Council is acting to include the project in the state’s budget for 2023.

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