Culture minister pushes bill to condition funding on ‘loyalty’

Likud’s Miri Regev under fire for legislation that would withhold financial support for cultural institutions over political views

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Culture Minister Miri Regev in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Culture Minister Miri Regev in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) is planning to advance a bill to withdraw art funding for those deemed “not loyal” to the State of Israel.

The minister’s proposal, set to be discussed by the Knesset’s Education Committee on Wednesday, would pull state support from groups that degrade state symbols or the flag, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, deny Israel’s right to exist, reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or incite to violence, terrorism, or racist hate crimes.

The bill was first reported by the Ynet news website, but Regev later confirmed the report. Writing on Facebook, Regev said: “As I promised, the Culture Ministry will only support cultural institutions that are loyal to the state’s laws.”

The representative body of Israel’s cultural institutions, Israel’s Cultural Institutions Forum, swiftly condemned the proposal.

“This is a bill that will allow politicians to strip the right of the freedom of expression from artists,” the forum said in a statement. “This makes Israel a state where the government controls how citizens live and what opinions they hold… The freedom of expression and, in that, the freedom to create, must be upheld to the very end.”

The bill was also decried by opposition Knesset members, with Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni slamming the government for targeting Israeli artists rather than dealing with the current wave of terror attacks.

“The real threat to Israel are the daily terror attacks, not Israeli culture,” Livni said. “For months, the government has failed to provide security for its citizens, and all it has to offer is another loyalty law.”

Regev is trying the be “the next [Avigdor] Liberman,” said Meretz MK Issawi Frej, referring to the head of the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party. The minister is “demanding absurd loyalty tests whose entire purpose is to alienate, incite, and silence everyone who refuses to be part of the right-wing community.”

Several of Regev’s fellow Likud lawmakers later came to her defense. “Loyalty to the state is a basic value, and there is nothing new here,” said David Bitan, according to Ynet, while Miki Zohar termed the bill “good, right, and justified.” Oren Hazan maintained that, “In Israel in 2016, it seems anyone who waves a flag is a radical right-winger, and whoever degrades it is a cultural hero. This is an ugly phenomenon that must stop.”

This wasn’t the first time the culture minister has sparked a firestorm over her criticism of Israeli cultural institutions.

In August, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein thwarted Regev’s plans to cut off funding to cultural institutions she deemed “unpatriotic,” claiming it “limited artistic freedom of expression.”

If, in the future, Regev intends to draft legislation on the issue, the Attorney General’s Office added, it will require Weinstein’s approval.

Regev froze state funding for the Arabic-language al-Midan theater in Haifa in June following its production of a play, A Parallel Time, based on the life of Walid Dakaa, who killed an Israeli soldier.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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