Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday said a deputy attorney general should be fired for criticizing a bill that would allow government funds to be withheld from cultural institutions deemed insufficiently loyal to the state.
In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit, Shaked said Dina Zilber would no longer officially represent the government at the Knesset or other high-level meetings.
“It is also clear that she does not wish to act professionally and honestly as a legal adviser,” Shaked wrote of Zilber, wryly adding that the deputy attorney general’s views would be better served “in running for political office.”
The justice minister also charged that Zilber “crossed every line,” according to Hadashot TV news.
The Justice Ministry said Mandelblit would examine Shaked’s claims and formulate a decision on the matter, Hebrew reports said on Tuesday night.
Shaked’s letter came after Zilber criticized the so-called Loyalty in Culture Law during a meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee earlier Tuesday. She said the bill “poses real difficulties” and that the authority the legislation aims to grant the Culture Ministry creates “a cooling and self-censoring effect.”
Zilber also criticized the current political climate and a slew of recent controversial legislation advanced by the right-wing government.
“These are not simple days and they are bringing us not only new laws but… confrontational dialogue, the wounding and scarring of our shared social fabric, labeling and branding — who is for us and who is against us,” Zilber said.
“If there’s someone who is loyal, then there’s someone who is a traitor,” she added.
Zilber has previously waded into debates on contentious legislation and last year said Israel was in a “post-law era.”
Channel 10 news reported that Mandelblit believes Zilber may have indeed used her platform at the Knesset meeting to express personal misgivings about the legislation, and may not back her up after Shaked’s call for her firing.
Responding to the network’s query on his position, Mandelblit said only that he will look into the issue and refused to answer when asked repeatedly if he will support Zilber.
According to Hadashot news, Mandelblit has the final say on whether to let Zilber go.
During Tuesday’s Knesset committee meeting, the parliament’s legal adviser also opined that the bill is problematic and seems to impose restrictions on freedom of speech.
“It can be seen as seemingly part of the imposition of restrictions on freedom of expression,” Eyal Yinon said, calling the bill an “oxymoron” that faces “significant constitutional obstacles.”
The legislation, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev and supported by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, calls for the denial of government funding to groups “that are working against the principles of the state.”
The legislation cleared its first reading Monday with 55 lawmakers in favor and 44 opposed. It requires two more readings to become law.
The bill 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.
Presenting the bill to the Knesset chamber on Monday, 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.
Critics say the law will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.