A bill that would allow the culture minister to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state” was approved by a Knesset committee on Tuesday for its final plenary votes next week.
The legislation, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev and supported by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, would allow the government to pull funding from organizations or events that feature any of five topics or themes: denial that the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement of racism, violence, or terror; support for the armed struggle or acts of terror against Israel by an enemy state or a terror group; marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning; or any act of destruction or physical degradation of the flag or any state symbol.
While the Finance Ministry is currently responsible for final decisions on withholding such state funding, Regev’s bill would transfer full power over budgets for the arts to herself.
Critics say the law will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.
The Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee on Tuesday approved the proposal for its second and third readings into law, which are expected to take place next Monday. The bill was finalized with eight MKs in favor and six opposed, along coalition and opposition lines.
The legislation was tweaked, per the request of three government MKs, to include a clause that would force the culture minister to consult with professional staff before pulling funding. It also says that no ministry official may submit a recommendation to withdraw funding unless they have personally seen the artwork.
“We recommend the coalition members to get their sleeping bags ready, because there will be a very long filibuster on Monday,” the opposition Zionist Union party said in a statement, after the legislation was approved by the parliamentary panel.
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah said the opposition would be capitalizing on the narrow-thin coalition — left with 61 lawmakers out of the Knesset’s 120 after Avigdor Liberman withdrew his five-seat Yisrael Beytenu party from the government last week — to topple the bill. On Monday, the coalition lost its first several Knesset plenum votes since it was reduced to just 61 members.
“We’ll take advantage of all the cracks in the coalition to try and topple it in a vote,” said Shelah.
Zionist Union MK Leah Fadida called on the center-right Kulanu coalition party to vote against the proposal.
Presenting the bill to the Knesset chamber for its first vote earlier this month, Regev insisted it did not undermine freedom of speech and called the legislation “correct and worthy.”
“There is no harm here to freedom of speech and art. There is no intention to silence people or stifle criticism,” said the culture minister.
“A handful of artists, who haven’t really read the law and don’t understand it, are trying to mislead the public and are using their artistic stage for political purposes,” added the Likud minister.
Regev has made numerous threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that she deems to be disloyal to the Jewish state since assuming her role as culture minister, following the 2015 elections.
Two years ago, she walked out of the Ophir awards — Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars — when a poem by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was read, because his work contain objections to the existence of a Jewish state.
She also panned last year’s critically acclaimed film “Foxtrot” as a defamation of Israel. The story of parents grieving the loss of their son is largely allegorical, but Regev insisted the film — which includes a scene of IDF soldiers committing a war crime — amounted to “self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.” After its release, Regev asked the Israeli film funds to provide detailed information about the approval process for movies, in an attempt to clamp down on state funding for movies critical of Israeli government policies.
Earlier this month, Regev asked the Finance Ministry to examine the financing of the Haifa International Film Festival, due to the screening of “subversive” movies. The Walla news site reported that the two movies to attract the minister’s ire were “Out,” which tells the story of a former IDF soldier who joins a right-wing organization that tries to damage the reputation of human rights activists, and “Acre Dreams” which depicts a love affair between a Jew and an Arab at the time of the British Mandate.