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Regev cannot defund ‘unpatriotic’ culture, AG rules

Weinstein’s office says culture minister’s plan to cut money limits ‘freedom of expression’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Culture Minister Miri Regev and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein (Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein (Flash90)

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday thwarted Culture Minister Miri Regev’s plans to cut off funding to cultural institutions she deemed “unpatriotic,” claiming it “limited artistic freedom of expression.”

In response to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, two deputies in the Attorney General’s Office, Orit Koren and Dina Zilber, clarified the opinion of their boss on the issue.

“Damage to the ability to produce and distribute an artwork on the basis of its content would be seriously damaging in particular to freedom of expression,” the deputies wrote.

“For that reason, the attorney general opposes [the idea],” they explained.

“To prevent the limitation of artistic freedom of expression” and ensure a richer national discussion, Koren and Zilber wrote, the funding decisions for individual cultural institutions are meant to be carried out on the “professional level,” instead of at the political level.

Allowing Regev to withdraw funding from theaters and art galleries that have plays and installations that “delegitimize Israel” — as Regev said in June — would have a chilling effect on artistic expression for some institutions, “out of the fear that it would endanger their government funding.”

Regev froze state funding for the Arabic-language al-Midan theater in June following its production of a play, A Parallel Time, based on the life of Walid Dakaa, who killed an Israeli soldier.

Although Regev and other right-wing ministers intended to remove funding because of the play, the idea of facing a public backlash caused them instead to freeze its backing for “funds whose source the theater managers could not explain.”

If, in the future, Regev intends to draft legislation on the issue, the Attorney General’s Office added, it will require Weinstein’s approval.

“With all due respect to the attorney general,” Regev responded in a statement, “he knows that he cannot intervene in my considerations for 2016 budget allocations. As I’ve said in the past, I have no intention to get involved with content or to limit freedom of expression.”

But Regev continued that “any management of a cultural institution that does not act according to the nation’s laws will be handled by criminal proceedings. And as I’ve said, and have repeated, there is no connection between freedom of expression and freedom of funding.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in response to the decision: “It is important that the attorney general made it clear to the culture minister what the limits of her power are, and warned her against harming artistic freedom of expression.”

Dan Yakir, ACRI’s attorney, said, “The attorney general debunked the minister’s theory that she is somehow authorized to determine — based on her opinion alone — which cultural institutions to support.”

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