The Justice Ministry on Wednesday approved controversial legislation proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev that would withdraw government funding from cultural institutions deemed disloyal to the State of Israel.
Regev’s “loyalty in culture” bill, as it has been dubbed, allows the ministry to deny state subsidies to groups that disrespect 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.
“This is a great achievement,” Regev said after the ministry approved the bill, according to Army Radio.
“A cultural institution that undermines the country will no longer benefit from its support. The freedom to be funded plus the freedom of expression are the DNA of Israeli society, and every other democratic society,” she said.
The measure must still pass the Knesset.
In recent months, the culture minister has leveled harsh criticism against a number of Israeli cultural institutions for their perceived political stance and subsequently threatened to pull their funding.
Though Regev maintains her legislation is an effort to “redefine and update the priorities of the cultural world in Israel,” her initiative prompted accusations of censorship and sparked a fierce debate about racism, free speech and the future of Israeli democracy.
Critics charge that Regev and other right-wing ministers are waging a wider “culture war” on Israeli artists rather than dealing with the ongoing political unrest.
On Wednesday, the Israeli-Arab human rights organization Adallah swiftly condemned the legislation, calling it “an effort to harm Israeli-Arab artists whose political opinions differ from that of the government’s.”
“The minister’s proposal gives significant preference to artists depending on their ideological and political stance, rather than the art being created,” a statement from group said.
The bill was previously decried by opposition Knesset members, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and a long list of iconic Israeli artists and writers.
Last year, Regev was booed by an audience at the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival after announcing she was reevaluating the ministry’s support for the theater’s annual film festival in ligh tof the fact that “Beyond the Fear,” a documentary about the wife of Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was going to be screened.
She also drew reactions from dozens of angry actors several weeks later when she discussed withdrawing funding from a Jaffa port theater run by Arab actor Norman Issa because he refused to take part in a theater production in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
She also lashed out at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque in December, when the arthouse theater promoted the 48mm Festival, which is also known as The Third International Film Festival on Nakba and Return.