A ministerial committee of Israel’s parliament voted on Sunday, October 21, to advance a bill that would cut subsidies to cultural institutions accused of not showing “loyalty” to the state, the culture minister announced. The proposed legislation, denounced by artists and freedom of speech activists, was proposed by far-right Culture Minister Miri Regev and supported by Neo-Liberal Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The decision by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation means that the bill will be fast-tracked to a full cabinet vote before being introduced in the Knesset as a government-backed bill. It would give the finance and culture ministries the power to slash subsidies to any institution presenting work that denies, “Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state or that marks the state’s independence day as a national day of mourning.”
According to the current proposal, the culture minister would be the governmental official empowered to determine whether any given cultural project should be disqualified for funding on the grounds of disloyalty. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit gave his approval for Sunday’s cabinet decision to advance the legislation, on condition that it be revised to avoid posing “a serious risk to freedom of speech.”
Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) attacked the bill saying that the “demand for loyalty in art is another step in silencing expression and forcing culture to be a mouthpiece for the government.” Khenin added that “Regev is working not for the promotion of culture, but for the suppression of freedom of creativity and free thought.”
On Monday, October 22, dozens of cultural figures and intellectuals published a manifesto calling for the defeat of the bill. Among the signatories were author David Grossman, actor Liora Rivlin, poet Tuvia Ribner, choreographer Yasmeen Godder, sculptor Dani Karavan and many others. The text of the manifesto reads: “This bill must not be approved, we must not allow any government to use public funds to prevent the legitimate presence in the public space of varied opinions and views, which are not comfortable for the government, and it makes no difference which government we’re talking about.”
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), “The cabinet has abandoned the Israeli cultural world and put it in the hands of a minister. Since the culture minister assumed her position in May 2015, she has been working tirelessly to undermine artistic freedom of expression and to deter cultural institutions from dealing with controversial issues. The present government is afraid of any type of criticism of its policy, particularly criticism of the occupation, and is trying to silence any voice that does not express unreserved support for its worldview. That’s not how a democracy is conducted.”
Regev, a member of Israel’s ruling right-wing Likud party, is no stranger to controversy and has repeatedly clashed with the country’s largely left-leaning cultural spheres. Last year she slammed the Israeli drama Foxtrot, which won the Venice Film Festival’s second-highest prize for, in Regev’s opinion, spreading untruths about the Israeli army. She was not invited to September’s Ophir Awards – Israel’s version of the Oscars – where Foxtrot won the best picture prize. She instead appeared live on her Facebook page to criticize the movie and members of Israel’s Film and Television Academy.