New Culture Minister Zohar vows to withdraw funding for art that ‘defames Israel’

Meanwhile, new Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi says he will undo predecessor’s change to kosher cell phone market, but otherwise open up the telecom market to competition

New Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar at a handover ceremony with outgoing minister Chili Tropper in the background, at the ministry offices in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
New Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar at a handover ceremony with outgoing minister Chili Tropper in the background, at the ministry offices in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar vowed on Monday to withhold state funding for art that “defames the State of Israel within the country and around the world.”

Speaking at a handover ceremony alongside his predecessor Chili Tropper, Zohar said no taxpayer dollars would be spent on forms of art and culture that “promote a narrative” against Israel.

“The world of culture and art is a world that represents us as a people, as a nation. We will deny funding to those who promote our enemy’s narrative and harm Israel’s good name,” he said.

“Terrorists and martyrs will not be presented as heroes on our watch. We will not compromise on ideology,” Zohar added.

The minister, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that receiving the portfolio was a “dream come true” and noted that his son Eliav is a musician who recently won a popular musical reality show.

“I raised an artist and learned how the soul of an artist behaves, so I think that the world of culture will get a minister that you can work with,” said Zohar.

Eliav Zohar (C) wins reality show ‘The Next Star’ in Rishon Lezion, September 20, 2022 (Flash90)

“I have countless plans and I hope to realize them all,” he added. “If they succeed, they will change Israeli culture. We will do everything to bring in more and more resources. The funding we have now is not enough. We need to reduce the gap in relation to [spending in] the rest of the world.”

Zohar also praised Tropper, saying “there is no doubt that you will be remembered as an excellent culture minister.”

In his remarks, Tropper warned his successor against reviving previous fights over culture, in an apparent swipe at his own predecessor, Miri Regev of Likud.

“We proved that a respectful way is not only more appropriate in my view, but also more effective. A culture of lies and hatred has no purpose,” Tropper said.

“Don’t be in a hurry to quarrel — there were years of quarrels and fights. Don’t rush back to that,” he continued. “The minister has a lot of power, and from this position of power you can multiply good and you can create evil. You can corrupt with power and you can fix things with its protection.”

Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar (R) with his predecessor Chili Tropper at a handover ceremony in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last summer, justifying his refusal to intervene in the performance of a play about violations of Palestinians’ rights in the West Bank based on witness accounts by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Tropper had said, “It does not seem to me that you would want to live in a country where the culture minister interferes in certain plays.”

“Today it’s me, tomorrow someone else with different opinions will sit in my place,” Tropper said.

Regev, though, did not shy away from intervening in such matters, championing a so-called Culture Loyalty Law that would have allowed her to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state.”

Outgoing Culture Minister Chili Tropper in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Also Monday, incoming Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he would advance plans to “lead the communications market toward a free and competitive market.”

Karhi, a firebrand Likud lawmaker, voiced support last month for shutting down the news divisions of the Kan public broadcaster and Army Radio.

“Television needs to include everything – we must allow the various voices that make us what we are to be heard… There are still voices that are not heard enough in Israeli media,” Karhi said.

He added that he intends “to strengthen the [Jewish] settlement” in the West Bank. “We need to provide them with the infrastructure to do so.”

The freshman minister also said he would work to cancel a decision by his predecessor Yoaz Hendel to loosen restrictions on so-called kosher cellphone plans and open up the market, a reform that was strongly opposed by many rabbinic authorities and ultra-Orthodox politicians.

“The outgoing minister made a decision regarding the use of cellphones in the Haredi community — an attempt to intervene in the usage habits of private citizens,” Karhi said. “I intend to undo the change in the coming days. For implementing this policy I plan to nominate Elad Malka as the new director general of the ministry.”

Incoming Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arrives for a group picture of the new government at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Malka has previously voiced support for privatizing the public broadcaster and even shutting down the Communications Ministry.

In a column published in Makor Rishon last month titled “Shutting down the public broadcaster?” Malka claimed that the issue with Kan was not its budget, but “that it is finishing off the private market.”

Malka is the founder of a lobbying group called Our Interest – Your Lobby at the Knesset, which calls for making markets more competitive. Before that, he was the head of Israel’s Media Watch, an organization that examines media-related policies. He has also been a Jerusalem council member and is considered a liberal within Likud ranks.

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