Israel Media Review

Culture wars: 6 things to know for November 26

The so-called Culture Loyalty Bill has caused controversy since its introduction by Minister Regev, and now it may create yet another coalition crisis

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israelis protest against the Culture Loyalty Bill, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis protest against the Culture Loyalty Bill, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. The already shaky foundations of the current government coalition may very well receive another shock, as the so-called Culture Loyalty Bill proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev seems to be in serious jeopardy.

  • The controversial bill would grant Regev and future culture ministers the power to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state.”
  • More specifically, the bill would allow the government to pull funding from organizations or events that feature any of the following five topics or themes: denial that the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement of racism, violence, or terror; support for 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.

2. Unsurprisingly, the bill has been showered with criticism by many artists and public figures mostly on the left, but also by some on the right, with the opponents of the legislation saying the proposed bill will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.

A statue of Miri Regev placed by an artist outside Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater, November 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Regev has clashed with Israel’s artistic community over accusations of censorship since her appointment as culture minister in 2015.
  • Earlier this month, a life-size statue of Regev was found in downtown Tel Aviv in apparent protest of her Loyalty Bill. The display outside Habima Square had Regev in a white dress, staring at herself in an oversized mirror. A small plaque reads “#InTheHeartOfTheNation.”

3. As of Monday afternoon, however, voting on the bill was set to be delayed, after coalition member and Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon said he would not enforce party discipline on the vote, a move that would essentially allow individual MKs to vote against the legislation.

  • Ever since Yisrael Beytenu ditched the government, the coalition holds a slim 61-59 majority, and since two coalition members — Likud’s Benny Begin and Kulanu’s Rachel Azaria — have already announced they would oppose the bill, passing the legislation is now less than likely.
  • Yisrael Beytenu — which is situated firmly on the right and has previously made its support for the bill clear — has said its MKs would consider voting in favor of the bill, in exchange for support for its own bill to make it easier for Israel to sentence convicted Palestinian terrorists to death. The second bill, for various reasons, seems quite unlikely to even reach the Knesset plenum for vote any time soon.

4. Meanwhile, the pro-government Israel Hayom shines a bright light on a major victory for the Jewish state’s foreign policy wings, leading with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic meeting with Idriss Déby, the leader of the Muslim-majority African nation of Chad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) prepares to shake hands with Chadian President Idriss Déby as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem, November 25, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)
  • Déby’s visit to visit to Israel this week is reportedly part of a campaign to lay the groundwork for normalizing ties with Muslim-majority countries Sudan, Mali and Niger, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News Sunday.
  • In recent months, Israel, it seems, has been working tirelessly to normalize ties with Muslim and Arab nations, amid shifting alliances in the Middle East driven by shared concerns over Iran.
  • Leading figures in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for example, have expressed the hope of warmer relations with Israel. And Oman welcomed Netanyahu in a surprise visit last month, an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with Gulf countries.

5. Haaretz gives a fascinating and perhaps worrying look into the limits of power within Israeli bureaucracy, reporting that the director general of the Finance Ministry threatened to cut funding from a state official’s office if the appointment of his personal assistant was not approved.

  • According to the paper, Shai Babad sought to promote his personal assistant to the position of head of his bureau, but to allow her to maintain her seniority standings.
  • Such a move is forbidden by the state’s Civil Service Commission, in order to prevent cases of nepotism or advancement of close associates. And so, according to Haaretz, after being informed of the rules, Babad threatened Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz that he would slash the office’s budget.
Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad poses at the Authority’s offices in Jerusalem, December 4, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Hershkowitz, who was only recently appointed to his position, decided not to file a disciplinary complaint against Babad, and instead ordered Finance Minister Kahlon to settle the matter with the director general.

6. El Al Israel Airlines says it will compensate all of the passengers on a recent flight from New York that was diverted to Athens over fears that it would not reach Tel Aviv before the start of Shabbat.

  • The national airline said it will give a round-trip ticket to any destination in Europe to each of the 400 passengers on the flight. The story grabbed headlines earlier this month, due to allegations that religious passengers were abusive to the cabin crew.
  • The airline had initially accused religious passengers of physically and verbally assaulting the crew, but then appeared to walk back the claims following vehement denials and threats of a boycott from the ultra-Orthodox community.

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