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Israel Celebration Flap Over Dancers

April 29, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A disagreement over the propriety of scantily dressed dancers at Israel’s 50th anniversary celebrations threatened Wednesday to spoil a centerpiece event, a lavish stage show called Jubilee Chimes.

Religious lawmakers asked the Supreme Court to block the Batsheva Dance Troupe performance because their act calls for members to strip down to their underwear. The court declined to hear the case, saying it had been submitted too close to the date of the festivities.

But the lawmakers from the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties also took their objections to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two parties hold 14 seats in Parliament, enough to bring down Netanyahu’s government.

``The 50th anniversary celebrations are funded by the government and they ought to unite the people, not offend part of the public,″ said Shas lawmaker Shlomo Benizri, who heads his party’s parliamentary faction.

The Jubilee Chimes performance, with Vice President Al Gore as guest of honor, is scheduled for Thursday in a Jerusalem stadium and is considered the climax of the anniversary celebrations.

Benizri also was offended by another act in the show, one in which Israel’s leading comic and mimic Tuvia Tsafir impersonates Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Religious members of Jerusalem’s City Council also object to a stage set depicting the Old City of Jerusalem because it contains a church with a prominent cross. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Haim Miller, who heads the council’s religious alliance, said the council petitioned the Supreme Court to remove both the dance and the cross from the program.

The director general of jubilee events, Doron Shmueli, said he was trying to find a solution that would ``satisfy all sides.″

But the Israel Artists Union said it would boycott the entire show if any acts were censored. ``This is religious coercion at its worst,″ said Shaike Levy, union chairman. ``No self-respecting artist can cooperate with or countenance this.″

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