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Jerusalem gallery faces eviction for hosting Israeli veterans’ group

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An art gallery in Jerusalem faces eviction from a municipal building after failing to heed city warnings to cancel a politically charged talk. Artists say the eviction is censorship.

On 8 February, the non-profit Barbur gallery hosted Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli combat soldiers who speak out against military rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Barbur, which has been given 90 days to leave, has been hosting speakers and artists from all backgrounds and standpoints for more than 11 years. Only during the term of the current culture minister, Miri Regev, who has argued that funded artists or organisations must show loyalty to the state, had it received warnings.

Regev said in a statement that the gallery is forbidden from holding political activities on city property and that the group “hurts Israel’s image”. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and other right-wing politicians have called Breaking the Silence traitors and have tried to curtail their activities.

In a statement from City Hall, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, said that the eviction “has no connection to freedom of speech” but that the gallery had breached rules for city buildings. Masha Zusman, the gallery’s co-founder and director, tells us that Barbur never had a contract outlining rules about political activity. “This is an attempt to tell us what subjects can be in the gallery. This is a shutting of our mouths,” Zusman says. Yonatan Amir, the co-editor of the Israeli art magazine Erev Rav, calls the eviction “political censorship”. It also hurts local religious and neighbourhood artists holding exhibitions, retirees taking art classes, and other free activities, including concerts, films, classes and lectures that benefit the community, regardless of religious or political affiliation, he says.