NY consul leaves gala over speech claiming Israeli arts freedom under threat

Dani Dayan walks out of event for Jerusalem’s Bezalel arts academy in protest of ‘slander,’ after school’s head says freedom of expression is in danger

Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israel’s Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan, walked out of a gala in support of the Israeli arts Wednesday to protest a speaker who said freedom of expression was under threat in Israel.

Dayan was attending the annual fundraising event for the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, held by supporters of the Jerusalem institute at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. Bezalel’s president, Prof. Adi Stern, got up to tell the audience of the Jerusalem institute’s plans for the future, but soon shifted toward a more political plane, consulate sources said.

“Freedom of expression in Israel — as in the US — is under attack, and Bezalel is at the forefront of the struggle to protect democracy,” Stern declared.

Dayan reportedly heckled Stern, calling out from his seat in the front row that his statement was untrue, and then, when Stern continued his speech, Dayan and his entourage walked out of the event.

Prof. Adi Stern (Screen grab via YouTube)

Afterwards, Dayan explained why he had left, saying: “I have no patience — and I am using a diplomatic expression — for those who slander the State of Israel abroad in order to find favor and raise money. I was not prepared to give it my seal of approval through my presence.”

Stern is not alone is his assessment, however.

Culture Minister Miri Regev has in the past made numerous threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that she deems to be disloyal to the state since assuming her role as culture minister, following the 2015 elections.Last year she attempted to pass a bill granting her the power to withhold funds based on such criteria.

Visitors viewing artwork at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design’s annual student exhibition in Jerusalem, July 2016. (Courtesy Bezalel via JTA)

The so-called Culture Loyalty Bill, which has been criticized as a form of censorship, 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 to 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.

The bill has been criticized by artists, the Knesset’s legal adviser and a deputy attorney general. Critics say it would essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.

It has so far not been able to pass.

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 8, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)

Last September, Regev asked the Finance Ministry to examine the financing of the Haifa International Film Festival, due to the screening of “subversive” movies. The Walla news site reported that the two films to attract the minister’s ire were “Out,” which tells the story of a former IDF soldier who joins a right-wing organization that tries to damage the reputation of human rights activists, and “Acre Dreams,” which depicts a love affair between a Jew and an Arab at the time of the British Mandate.

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