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Negev’s sole Jewish-Arab discourse cultural center vacated by municipality

CM 24/04/2021

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The only cultural center in the Negev that dealt with Arab-Jewish discourse has been vacated by order of the Beersheba Municipality.

Operating out of a bomb shelter by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, the Multaka-Mifgash had worked for years to promote grassroots solutions to the conflicts in Israel’s South.
The decision to close the facility seems to stem from the municipality’s demand for retroactive payment of taxes.
But while it may seem that financial woes forced them to leave after over a decade, it actually goes back to disputes surrounding censorship with the municipality.
The municipality had first threatened closures in 2014 when it started interfering with its content, censoring anything they deemed to be problematic. When the NCF refused to follow suit, the municipality went to the court. The NCF appealed that the municipality shouldn’t be allowed to interfere.
A similar fate had befallen the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, which was ordered to vacate its building after hosting the anti-Zionist NGO Breaking the Silence. However, the court later overturned this ruling.
Likewise, the court ruled in favor of NCF’s appeal, stopping its eviction.

Now, the municipality demanded retroactive property tax payments at a business interest rate for the years 2012-2018 at the “outrageous and impossible amount” of nearly half a million shekels. the NCF said in a statement, which they said was “illegal” and “a new record in the Beersheba Municipality’s struggle against freedom of expression.”
It should be noted that, according to the NCF, all nonprofits in Beersheba are exempt from property tax, with the NCF as seemingly the sole exception. 
As part of a deal to avoid paying the large sum, the organization agreed to vacate the premises by October 2020, though COVID-19 postponed this until now.
Regardless, the NCF insists that this isn’t just about them, but political pressure.
“This is bigger than just our story,” NCF said. “We must not succumb to the pressure of the far Right, as the Beersheba municipality has succumbed.”
A crowdfunding campaign has been set up to help raise NIS 100,000 for Multaka-Mifgash to find a new home, with the sum being enough to cover rent and utilities for a year. So far, almost NIS 55,000 has been raised.Donna Rachel Edmunds contributed to this report.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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