(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A letter from the Attorney- General’s Office regarding Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s decision to freeze funding to Haifa Al-Midan Theater has drawn sharp criticism for interfering in the funding decisions of the ministry.
MK Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, criticized the state legal adviser’s position on the matter through his Facebook page, saying that “there is direct connection between allowing the Haifa theater to incite and to praise terrorists and between racially motivated rioting of Arabs in Acre. When those in charge of enforcing the law in the country allow the incitement and in an indirect way even obligate [the state] to fund it, this gives legitimacy to terrorism and violence.”
Al-Midan Theater has been the object of controversy since it was revealed in April that the play A Parallel Time being performed in it was inspired by the story of Walid Daka, a Palestinian serving time for his part in the abduction, torture and murder of soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.
In June, Regev froze her ministry’s funding for the theater on the advice of Dr.
Haim Perluk, chairman of the Israel Arts and Culture Council, who said that he had found “a number of things that raise questions about the sources of funding,” in addition to being told by the manager that the theater is political.
This week, Regev wrote on Facebook, “[a]s I have said in the past, I have no intention of interfering in the content of artwork or freedom of expression, however, I do intend to implement my policies and make culture and sport accessible to the periphery, to the non-Jewish sector, and to the ultra-Orthodox sector.
However, I do not intend to transfer funds to entities that seek to undermine the state and the law.”
The letter from the Attorney- General’s Office was a response to Dan Yakir, legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who had reached out to the office in June, immediately following Regev’s announcement that she had frozen the funding.
According to the deputy attorneys-general who signed the letter, the office told Regev that she cannot make funding decisions based on the content of the art being performed at a cultural institution, as that would constitute a violation of freedom of expression.
The letter also drew criticism from Meshilut (The Israeli Movement for Governability and Democracy), a Jerusalem-based organization that tracks legislation and court decisions and evaluates them in light of democratic values.
According to Meshilut, the attorney-general’s position on Regev’s funding freeze contradicts an earlier position of the office that stated that limiting funding does not harm freedom of expression.
Meshilut said that it was “puzzled” by the attorney- general’s position on Regev’s funding freeze, as “in a position presented by the attorney-general to the Supreme Court on a hearing of the Boycott Law, [Attorney- General Yehuda] Weinstein expressly determined that revoking support does not constitute a violation of freedom as expression, as there is no vested right to support from the state budget.”
The position filed by the Attorney-General’s Office on the matter of the Boycott Law went on to explain that the decision not to fund a certain organization does not prohibit that organization from acting in a certain way or dealing with certain issues, as the organization can continue to act as it wishes without state funding.
“The basic principle, according to which there is no vested right for [financial] support and an organization that makes use of public funds is not entitled to make use of the funds made available to them by the public to harm that same public, is a simple principle that the Supreme Court has already ruled on,” Simcha Rotman, Meshilut’s legal adviser, said.
Meshilut called on the attorney-general “to refrain from making biased legal opinion, and to refrain from interfering in policy considerations that are under the purview of elected officials.”
Regev also noted the timing of the letter that was sent from the Attorney-General’s Office during the hearing that she held in her office with representatives from the Al-Midan Theater.
She wrote on Facebook, “I hope and believe that the attorney-general has no intention of trying to influence the hearing process that is being carried out according to the law and led by the director-general of the ministry, the legal adviser of the ministry, and professionals.”