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ISRAEL: Screen artists strike

February 26, 2009 |  9:20 am

Many successful revolutions begin with a takeover of television or radio studios. This week in Israel, these weren't armed rebels interrupting a live TV broadcast, but local artists.

TV journalist Guy Zohar presents "The Day That Was", a nightly light news wrap-up program. In the country's news-heavy media, the show is refreshingly low key. The set is minimal and the lighting dim, almost intimate. Perched on a bar stool -- the only furniture on the set -- Zohar offers a slightly offbeat take on the news. 

The next item was 2008 crime stats and car thefts. "So, if you have a Subaru, you'd better chain it to a post," he was saying, when three young women barged onto the set in mid-item.

"Oh dear," said the startled host, usually understated.

The three women opened their jackets, revealing not what you think. Taped to their shirts were handwritten signs: "original productions -- or close."

Ibtisam Mara'ana, Inbal Cohen and Einav Greenberg are among the thousands of TV and film artists protesting budget cuts to Israeli productions. Seven organizations representing more than 5,500 actors, writers, producers, editors and other screen professionals declared a three-day strike this week, accusing Israel's two commercial TV channels of taking funds earmarked for original Israeli productions and funneling them to other projects and suffocating local talent.

The Second Authority for Television and Radio, which operates Israel's commercial channels, is bound by law to promote Hebrew and Israeli creations and states that the promotion of original production in Israel is an issue of cultural and national importance. The artists say the channels "stole" their money and are in violation of the law, which obliges them to allot certain air-time and budgets to the cause. Using the world economic slowdown as an excuse, say the artists, the franchisers have frozen 48 Israeli productions. The franchisers point out that Israel's commercial channels lost at least $37.5 million last year, and they blame the global economy and shrinking advertising market. They value Israeli artists and are doing their best to produce good local work, they said, and will try to negotiate with the artists, who are giving talks 45 days.

When studio crew and then security removed the uninvited guests, Zohar regained his usual unflappable self and patiently explained to viewers what the ruckus was about, saying he had intended to talk about it anyway. The following day, he said a red line had been crossed.

Channel 10 intends to press charges against the three intruders. The women, for their part, say the charges are not against them but against the thousands of artists they represent. Earlier that day, 100 of them had held a protest. You didn't send a news crew to cover us today, Mara'ana told Zohar, so we came to you.

The striking artists are inviting the public to support their protest and join an open-air cultural event Thursday evening in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. The event includes a free public screening of "Waltz with Bashir," the film Israelis had hoped would bring home an Academy Award but didn't.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem