Cultural institutions that incite to racism, violence or terrorism, or support armed conflict or terrorism against Israel will no longer be able to receive government funding, according to a new bill proposed by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
Regev plans to present her “Loyalty in Culture” proposal to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee on Wednesday.
Among the other reasons for which the Culture Ministry could deny funding are rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state; marking the establishment of the State of Israel or Independence Day as a day of mourning – known as “Nakba Day” or “Catastrophe Day” in Arabic; or destroying or physically shaming the dignity of the Israeli flag or the state symbol.
“The Culture Ministry is responsible for supervising cultural institutions, including the content they present, and making sure they are not breaking the law,” Regev said on Tuesday. “Cultural institutions are not above the law and must act according to the laws of the State of Israel; we must make sure they do so.”
Regev said she is responsible for the public funding going to cultural institutions and “will not be an ATM.” As such, her bill will give her the authority to take funding away from institutions that break the law.
“The amendment to the Budget Law will ensure that the elected government has freedom to fund, freedom to choose what the State of Israel will fund, according to its laws, values and policies. I believe that this law will pass and ensure that the State of Israel will only budget funds to cultural institutions that are loyal to the laws of the state. That should be obvious. Freedom of expression is the air democracy breathes and I will fight for it, but at the same time, I will fight for freedom of funding and in no way will allow law-breaking disguised as freedom of expression,” she stated.
Currently, the Culture Ministry supports institutions based on standards that are not content-based, such as the number of instruments in an orchestra, the number of plays in a theater, geographic location, etc. An institution that broke the law, for example, by inciting, can be fined but only by the Finance Ministry.
Therefore, the Culture Ministry is required by law to continue funding institutions that break the law and would like to change that situation.
“In practicality, under the existing law, the Culture Ministry is not a sovereign body that can implement policy and keep the law, rather it is an ATM,” Regev’s spokeswoman explained. “Absurdly, the only one with the authority to enforce the law in cultural institutions is the Finance Ministry, which has nothing to do with cultural institutions and has no mechanism to supervise them or designated staff, has no interest and, therefore, there is no enforcement.”
Even if the Finance Ministry decides to enforce the law, Regev’s office said the system of fining institutions is not effective because the fine is very small and not a deterrent or a significant punishment. In addition, the process can take several months, during which the institution can continue breaking the law without any problems.
Lawmakers in the opposition came out against the proposal, saying it limits freedom of speech.
“For four months, this government has failed in providing basic security to its citizens and all it has to offer is another loyalty law,” said MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union).
“The government’s frustration on the security side should not be taken out on artists, or whoever thinks differently from it, in a way that only harms Israel’s name in the world as a democratic country and increases international isolation,” Livni stated.
Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli pointed out that Regev recently announced an initiative to bring culture to the periphery, and said it is unfortunate that while doing so, she “moved to incitement and exclusion of many in Israeli society, of opinions and thoughts and by threatening the freedom of expression of others.”
MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) said Regev is turning artists into targets for persecution.
“Now, Mrs. Regev does not even allow light and fairly conservative criticism. She wants full obedience and loyalty in an area that does not need any obedience except loyalty to one’s self. The minister, Miri Regev, proposed a bill that will transfer Culture funds to art that is anti-cultural, because the condition for receiving the money is the extinction of culture, criticism, freedom of thought and rebellion,” Zoabi said.
Last year, Regev’s decision to defund the Jaffa-based Elmina Theater for Jewish and Arab teens because its founder, Norman Issa, refused to perform over the Green Line in his capacity as an actor with the Haifa Theater, sparking protests by artists and others. Several days later, Regev reversed her decision, saying Issa agreed to have the Elmina Theater perform in settlements.