The debate on the first reading of the “Loyalty in Culture Bill” that took place in the Knesset on November 5 was undoubtedly one of the most shameful to have taken place in our parliament.
The bill being debated was an amendment to the Culture and Arts Law. If passed, the amendment will transfer the power to decide on the reduction or cancellation of subsidies to cultural bodies, which is currently vested in the Ministry Finance, to the Ministry of Culture and Sport. Such subsidies may be reduced or canceled if the said bodies have carried out activities that: “(1) deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; (2) incite to racism, violence and terror; (3) support an armed struggle or an act of terror, by an enemy state, or a terror organization against the State of Israel; (4) mark Independence Day or the day on which the State was founded as a day of mourning (the Nakba Law); destroy or physically degrade the honor of the state flag or emblem.”
According to Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, the amendment is needed because under the existing law the means that the Minister of Finance has to implement this provision are insufficient.
So why not amend the existing law? Apparently because Regev wants to have the authority to decide which cultural bodies should and which should not receive public funding.
The main problem regarding Regev being in charge of deciding who is loyal and who is not loyal to the state, is that her own interpretation of what constitutes, for example, “incitement to terror” or “support for an act of terror”, is controversial (to say the least), and that her list of acts that manifest disloyalty to the state is much longer than that stipulated in the law.
Regev proved during the debate that the above suspicions are unfortunately founded. For example, she mentioned criticism of the IDF as an act of disloyalty, even though it is not mentioned in the law. In addition, several times in the course of the debate she mentioned that she refuses to subsidize the Jaffa Soraya Theatre (a joint Arabic-Hebrew venture) because it screened a documentary titled Naila and the Uprising: Women of the First Intifada. Regev, who hadn’t seen the film, claimed that it glorifies a terrorist. In fact, the feminist film depicts a Palestinian woman from Gaza who struggled for non-violent resistance during the First Intifada, and describes her personal life and clashes with the Israeli authorities. This is not a film that advocates terror – it is a film that advocates non-violent resistance, and the price paid for trying to realize it.
If the debate had at least stuck to all the charged issues mentioned above – dayenu. But the debate very quickly deteriorated to the worst type of mud-slinging and personal insults, in which both sides of the House “excelled,” giving the three deputy speakers who presided over the three-hour long sitting the thankless task of trying to keep a modicum of order and decorum – with very little success one may add.
Miri Regev represented the government in the chamber for most of the debate and didn’t even try to assume a countenance of decorum. She heckled like the most problematic of MKs, shouting at MKs from the opposition that they are talking nonsense, lying and actually saying to those who complained that she spent much of her time away from her seat at the government table in order to demonstratively stand next to the seat of the enfant terrible Oren Hazan (Likud): “I am obliged to be present, but I don’t want to listen to you!”
The opposition MKs, on their part, also crossed many red lines in terms of refusing to show even the most basic respect for Regev as a representative of the government, mercilessly trying (and succeeding) to shame her for her frequent demonstrations of ignorance and flimsiness with facts.
They quoted – from Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin, the Bible and many other respectable sources – sentences that Regev proved to be unfamiliar with, and argued that she would have censored them if only given a chance. Several of them also mocked a mistake she had made the previous week in the plenum when she said to MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp), who was explaining a bill he had submitted regarding the activities of her ministry in organizing national ceremonies, that he hadn’t achieved a quarter of what she had achieved – not even a third. Regev proved that she didn’t understand what they were talking about when she actually answered “I know that half is possibly less than a third.” (Could it be that Regev is dyslectic?)
However, there were two incidents, unconnected to the hapless Minister of Culture and Sports, but involving two MKs – one from the coalition and one from the opposition – that were particularly shameful and demonstrated to what depths the Knesset has deteriorated.
The first incident involved MK Oren Hazan, who repeatedly proves that neither the Knesset nor his party are equipped to deal with him. Hazan referred to the disabled MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) as “half a man.”
True, there was a provocation on Gilon’s part, when he said in reply to constant heckling by Hazan: “I would have written The Golem of Prague about you, but he preceded your time.” Hazan, who clearly knew nothing of the 16th century legend about the Golem of Prague, created from clay by Rabbi Judah Loew to protect the Jewish quarter of the Bohemian city from blood libels, decided that Gilon had called him a “golem” (dummy) and shot back at him: “If you weren’t half a man, I would answer you.” Hazan later argued that he wasn’t referring to Gilon’s disability and issued half an apology. However, several years ago, Hazan had an embarrassing clash with another disabled MK in a wheelchair – Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) – that suggests that compassion for the disabled is not exactly Hazan’s forte.
The second incident involved MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid). After Stern had demonstrated Miri Regev’s ignorance of the writings of the 17th century Yemenite rabbi Shalom Shabazi, whom she herself had mentioned by name earlier on in the debate (she was heckling MK Ofer Shelah from Yesh Atid, who had chosen to quote the Ashkenazi Natan Alterman), Regev commented that when Stern had been head of the IDF manpower directorate, “We had to clean up after you, after every utterance you made.”
She continued, shouting from her seat, that Stern owed his Knesset seat to contacts with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, during the period when he had served as head of the manpower directorate – insinuating that there was something fishy about these contacts. (In fact, Stern was first elected to the Knesset on Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah list in 2013).
From the podium, Stern then shot back at her “Miri, I don’t want to talk here about how you advanced (in the IDF).”
Most of those who heard Stern assumed he was insinuating that Regev had advanced “by means of the bed.” He claimed that he was referring to her use of flattery and sucking up to her superiors. No matter what he meant, the words he uttered were unworthy. He refused to apologize to Regev but apologized to all other women who might have felt insulted by his “misunderstood” words.
All to the glory of the state of Israel, and loyalty to it...
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