Vote on culture ‘loyalty’ bill put off after Kulanu pulls support

Vote on culture ‘loyalty’ bill put off after Kulanu pulls support

Party leader Kahlon gives his MKs freedom to vote as they see fit on contentious legislation pushed by culture minister

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev attends a Culture, Sports and Education Committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev attends a Culture, Sports and Education Committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Knesset vote on controversial legislation that would grant the Culture Ministry the power to withhold funding based on political criteria was postponed Monday, after two coalition MKs said they would vote against it and a key coalition party said it would let members vote as they saw fit, placing passage of the bill under doubt.

The so-called culture loyalty bill, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev, which has been criticized as a form of censorship over the arts, was removed from the day’s plenary schedule. It was set for a final vote during the afternoon session.

With the coalition holding on to power with a razor-thin 61-59 majority, every vote needs either bipartisan backing or total coalition support to pass.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria said on Sunday that the bill would be “difficult to support” if it comes up for its scheduled final plenary vote on Monday.

Moshe Kahlon (R) and Rachel Azaria shake hands at a press conference in Jerusalem announcing Azaria will join the Kulanu party on January 6, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I call on the coalition not to bring the culture loyalty bill to a vote,” she said in a statement.

Veteran Likud MK Benny Begin informed coalition chair David Amsalem that he would also vote against the bill, according to Likud sources.

Kahlon, who is finance minister, said Sunday evening that lawmakers from his party would be free to vote as they wished on the legislation, as well as on several other contentious bills being pushed by the government.

Those include a proposal by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to allow ministers to appoint their ministries’ own legal advisers, and another bill seeking to eliminate a loophole that would allow President Reuven Rivlin to nominate for prime minister a lawmaker who doesn’t lead a party.

Likud MK Benny Begin during a Foreign Affairs and Security Committee at the Knesset, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The loyalty legislation, proposed by Regev and supported by Kahlon himself, 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.

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 her ministry.

Critics say the bill will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.

Responding to Azaria and Begin’s announced opposition, Regev said Sunday, “We will pass the law without them,” and called on Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who recently bolted the coalition along with his party’s five seats, to fulfill a previous vow to support the bill.

“The national camp will not forgive you for this. You as a former defense minister know that toppling this law will be a reward for terrorism,” she said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, October 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following the decision to pull Monday’s vote, Regev hastily announced a press conference at 1 p.m., in which she was expected to berate Liberman for conditioning his Yisrael Beytenu party’s support of the bill.

On Monday morning Yisrael Beytenu reiterated its insistence that its MKs would only consider voting in favor of the bill in exchange for support for its own bill to make it easier for Israel to sentence convicted Palestinian terrorists to death.

“We will behave according to the famous saying by the prime minister: ‘If they give some, they will get some. If they don’t give some — they won’t get anything,'” the party said in a statement. It also announced that it would be bringing forward its Monday faction meeting to take place before Regev’s press conference, presumably to preempt her criticism.

The death penalty proposal, which is sponsored by the party, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset in January, despite reservations by some coalition lawmakers. Its progress since then has been repeatedly hampered due to opposition from the security establishment. Since leaving the coalition, Liberman has been near powerless to push it through committee.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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