Israel Joins Bikini Fray, Ordering Concert Singer to Cover Up

Even as France has started an international debate about whether some women cover up too much on the beach, Israel has gone the other way, with fresh concerns about whether some cover up too little.

The Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport said on Sunday that it would insist on modest dress by performers at government-sponsored musical events after a singer said she was forced to leave the stage for wearing a bikini top at a beachside concert near here last week.

The flap over skimpy swimwear here turned Europe’s burkini debate on its head. A flash of skin on a beach in Tel Aviv, a cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean, is hardly unusual — Tel Aviv teemed with women sunbathing in bikinis over the weekend, just as it has for years. At the same time, there were also religious women, Muslim and Jewish, covered nearly entirely, a sight that caused none of the political and cultural uproar seen on the sands of the Riviera lately.

But if the French local bans on the head-to-ankle burkinis illustrated an often libertine country’s discomfort with conservative Muslim traditions, the decision by the Israeli authorities to weigh in on the side of more clothing reflected a different kind of cultural debate. With the influence of Conservative Judaism on the rise in Israel, a country long dominated by secular elites is struggling with its identity and values.

The culture minister, Miri Regev, has been a driving force behind the debate, seeking to deny state money for institutions that do not express loyalty to the state and proposing to vet the music played by the army’s radio station for its patriotism. Her ministry said Sunday that it was now acting to respect the sensibilities of those who might be offended by immodest attire at shows financed by the state.

“The ministry’s policy, led by the minister of culture, states that festivals and events which are funded by public money will honor the general public that attends the events, which includes all the various sectors and communities,” Sivan Carmon, a ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The ministry intervened after a concert in Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, on Friday took a surprise turn. Onstage was Hanna Goor, a singer known for her appearance on “A Star Is Born,” a long-running Israeli reality television program featuring new vocalists.

As she performed, Ms. Goor was wearing an unbuttoned shirt over a bikini top and shorts when, she said, a man from the production company contracted by the state approached her and told her to cover up. She said she had refused, only to have the man threaten to kick her off the stage. She sang another song anyway, then noticed the production company official return with a security officer, at which point she left the stage to avoid a confrontation.

Ms. Carmon, the culture ministry spokeswoman, said by telephone on Sunday that Ms. Goor’s attire was not appropriate for performing in front of the general public. Ms. Carmon denied that the singer had been forced offstage, but said that the program had been running late and that Ms. Goor’s time had been cut short by maybe one song.

In an interview on Sunday, Ms. Goor said she was only trying to stay cool in the late summer heat, and was dressed no different from many watching from the beach.

“It’s Friday noon,” she said. “Everything is so sunny, so hot, I was only thinking about how tolerable it would be onstage.”

She said she was stunned by the objection to her clothing. “They made it such a big deal, and now there are new regulations they want to put on and force artists to be more modest,” she said. “It’s just not right. I’m against it, and I will speak my mind about it as much as I can. It’s very important for me to sing the way I want to sing and get up on stage dressed how I want to dress.”


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