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Opposition slams bid to turn art into government mouthpiece

With treasury’s support, Regev introduces bill to defund ‘subversive’ art

Proposed law would withhold state funding from works that deny Israel is Jewish-democratic country, promote racism, incite violence, destroy state symols

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

Culture Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have submitted legislation that would allow the government to withhold funding for cultural “organizations that are working against the principles of the state.”

Regev had long been seeking Kahlon’s support to punish institutions that produce or feature what she terms “subversive” art, but had not received it until now.

The minister submitted the proposed legislation as a memorandum, and it will be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in late October when the Knesset returns from its summer break.

The law will allow the government to withhold funding from organizations or events that present any of five topics, Hadashot news reported.

The five prohibited topics listed in the proposed bill are: Denying the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; inciting racism, violence, or terror; supporting 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; any act of destruction or physical degradation of the flag of the state or any state symbol.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In the State of Israel there is artistic freedom, but there is no freedom to exploit public funding to attack the values of the state or its symbols,” the ministers said in a joint statement Thursday.

“Freedom of expression is a worthy and important value but a democracy has the right to protect itself,” they said. “In Israel there are artists of the first degree who bring honor to the state and pride to all of us, but there are also small, extremist groups that never miss an opportunity to incite against the State of Israel and the IDF. This is inappropriate and it is not right that the state should support this group.”

Opposition lawmakers slammed the move, with Knesset opposition leader Tzipi Livni saying the “demand for loyalty in art is another step in silencing expression and forcing culture to be a mouthpiece for the government.

“Israel is strong enough for freedom in art and culture,” Livni added.

The head of the left-wing Meretz Party, Tamar Zandberg, called the proposed law anti-democratic.

“It is less and less clear what Miri Regev has against Israeli culture, a successful and popular culture that Israelis love,” she said. “The culture minister attacks it time after time, with a governmental effort to distance Israel from a liberal democracy and to turn it into a state that persecutes artists and censors them. This time the victim is our culture.”

Earlier this week, 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 movies 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.

Last year, the Arab Hebrew Theater held an evening in honor of Israeli Arab poet Dareen Tatour during which her poems were read, including one titled, “Resist My People, Resist.” Tatour last month was sentenced to five months in prison for “inciting terrorism” in her poems. The theater last year also staged an event called “Notebooks from Prison,” featuring texts by Palestinian security prisoners serving time in Israeli jails.

After Regev penned a letter of complaint to Kahlon, representatives from the culture and finance ministries decided the offending performances were isolated incidents and agreed to fine the theater instead of slashing its funding.

Jaffa Arab-Hebrew Theater, 28 October 2011. (CC BY-SA Itzuvit, Wikimedia commons)

Regev has made numerous threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that she deems to be disloyal to the Jewish state since assuming her role as culture minister following the 2015 elections.

Two years ago, she walked out of the Ophir awards — Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars — when a poem by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was read, because his work contain objections to the existence of a Jewish state.

She also panned last year’s critically acclaimed film “Foxtrot” as a defamation of Israel. The story of parents grieving the loss of their son is largely allegorical, but Regev insisted the film — which includes a scene of IDF soldiers committing a war crime — amounted to “self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.” After its release, Regev asked the Israeli film funds to provide detailed information about the approval process for movies, in an attempt to clamp down on state funding for movies critical of Israeli government policies.

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