Minister Miri Regev.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Following her recent controversial initiative of a “cultural loyalty” bill, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev is now promoting legislation requiring all state-funded institutions to fly the national flag. These would include sports centers, soccer stadiums, schools, cultural institutions and theaters built with state funds in both Jewish and Arab municipalities.
“The institutions Israel builds should wave the flag with pride,” Regev asserted. Zionism requires us “to uphold the values of the state and its symbols,” she added.
It is curious and somewhat distressing that Regev has found support for her litmus test for loyalty in the justice system. Newly installed Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has come out in favor of Regev’s latest bid to rule upon and preserve the loyalty of the country’s citizens.
He did, however, tone down some of her conditions.
For example, Mandelblit rejected Regev’s request to deny all of the state funding for such cultural groups, acceding only to a 6 percent budget reduction. And in all fairness, the attorney-general said that such punitive reductions should apply to all culturally culpable artistic groups – including those that refuse to perform in the Negev and the Galilee, not only in Judea and Samaria.
Regev’s legislation would withhold state funding from cultural institutions “that incite to racism, violence or terrorism, or support armed conflict of terrorism against Israel.” In other words, for some reason the minister thinks that such crimes – all of which are already covered by the criminal code – require her intervention in order for justice to be seen to be done.
Regev’s initiative was harshly opposed by Arab Knesset members. Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen told The Jerusalem Post: “Minister Regev continues to display provocative nationalism and incitement against Arab citizens,” said the Hadash MK, accusing her of trying “to force Jewish majority symbols on the Arab public.
“What does this add to culture? What values does it promote? Does it promote coexistence and understanding between Jews and Arabs, or does it deepen tensions and alienation? In a real democracy the state does not impose national symbols on the minority,” he continued.
“Regev’s populism hurts culture, democracy and the delicate relationship between the two nations.”
Actually, Regev forged a linkage between flag displaying and flag desecrating two months before her new initiative.
In March, she told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee that “Freedom of expression is part of the DNA of the State of Israel, and I have no intention of harming this, but the state will not fund any cultural institution that subverts it or that burns the flag.”
What about an individual protester who burns the flag? Is such an act protected by the freedom of speech? In theory, the law imposes a jail sentence of up to one year for “dishonoring the flag,” but in practice this limit to the freedom of expression is seldom prosecuted. One such case was the police investigations into artist Natali Cohen Vaxberg, who was detained after filming herself defecating on the Israeli flag. A similar case occurred in March at the Haaretz Culture Conference, “Culture Requires Independence.” Ariel Bronz ended his performance at the conference by inserting an Israeli flag into his rear end. Such is the direction and source of much political protest today.
The law against flag desecration is selectively enforced, according to Haaretz reporter Yaniv Kubovich. He noted that when Israeli flags were stained red by demonstrators against the exchange of Palestinian terrorists for Gilad Shalit, the police did nothing. However, activists were questioned by police at protests against the West.
In 1989, the US Supreme Court ruled that laws banning the desecration of the US flag violated the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court subsequently acquitted a man who had burned an American flag as part of a political protest in 1984. The court ruled that political expression cannot be limited, even if society finds it offensive – even when it involves the national flag.
We are in favor of work being done to increase a sense of allegiance to the state. However, we do not believe that loyalty can be legislated or that a real sense of loyalty can be forced down a people’s throat. If Regev and the government want to increase loyalty within the Arab and even haredi sectors, the state should consider increasing its investments in those communities’ schools and institutions.
Flag-waving legislation won’t be enough.