Culture ‘loyalty’ bill in jeopardy as two coalition MKs plan vote rebellion

Culture ‘loyalty’ bill in jeopardy as two coalition MKs plan vote rebellion

After Yisrael Beytenu conditions support on progress for its own death penalty proposal, Regev tells Liberman ‘the national camp won’t forgive you’ for blocking her legislation

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 8, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/ Pool/ Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 8, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/ Pool/ Flash90)

A proposal by Culture Minister Miri Regev that would grant her the power to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state” appeared to be in jeopardy Sunday, after two coalition MKs announcing they will vote against the bill later this week.

Now that the coalition holds a razor-thin majority — with just 61 lawmakers out of the Knesset’s 120 after Avigdor Liberman withdrew his five-seat Yisrael Beytenu party from the government earlier this month — a rebellion by even a single lawmaker could prevent the bill from becoming law.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, however, said on Sunday that it would be “difficult to support” if it comes up for its scheduled final plenary votes on Monday.

“I call on the coalition not to bring the Cultural Loyalty Bill to a vote,” she said in a statement.

Doubling the coalition’s troubles, veteran Likud MK Benny Begin informed coalition chair David Amsalem that he would also vote against the bill, according to Likud sources.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria attends a Kulanu faction meeting in the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The legislation, proposed by 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 bill will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.

Responding to Azaria and Begin’s announced opposition, Regev said Sunday, “We will pass the law without them,” and called on Yisrael Beytenu chair Liberman to fulfill a previous vow to support the bill.

“The national camp will not forgive you for this. You as a former defense minister know that toppling this law will be a reward for terrorism,” she said. Earlier, Yisrael Beytenu said its MKs will consider voting in favor of the bill only if its own bill to make it easier for Israel to sentence convicted Palestinian terrorists to death is advanced by the coalition.

That proposal, which is sponsored by the party, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset in January, despite reservations by some coalition lawmakers. Its progress since then has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition from the security establishment.

In a literal example of the government funding pro-government artists, the Culture and Sports Ministry said Regev also published a cartoon it had commissioned to promote the law depicting a theater mask burning an Israeli flag being refused state funds.

A cartoon promoting the so-called Cultural Loyalty Bill law depicting a theater mask burning an Israeli flag being refused state funds. (Culture and Sports Ministry)

The so-called Cultural Loyalty Bill was finalized for its second and third readings by the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee last week, with eight MKs in favor and six opposed, along coalition and opposition lines.

The legislation was tweaked at 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 that coalition members get their sleeping bags ready, because there will be a very long filibuster on Monday,” the opposition Zionist Union faction said in a statement, after the legislation was approved by the parliamentary panel.

The bill has been criticized by artists, the Knesset’s legal adviser and a deputy attorney general.

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,” she said.

“A handful of artists, who haven’t really read the bill and don’t understand it, are trying to mislead the public and are using their artistic stage for political purposes,” Regev added.

Hundreds attend a protest against the ‘Cultural Loyalty Bill’ proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev, outside the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Regev has made numerous threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that she deems to be disloyal to the 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 contains 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” films. The Walla news site reported that the two filmsto 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.

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