A Knesset vote on controversial legislation that would grant the Culture Ministry the power to withhold funding based on far-right political criteria was postponed Monday, November 26, after several protests and two coalition MKs said they would vote against it, and a key coalition party said it would let members vote as they saw fit, making passage of the bill doubtful.
The “culture loyalty” bill, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev, which has been criticized as a form of censorship over the arts, was removed from the day’s plenary schedule. The date for the final vote was set during the afternoon session.
Artists in Israel have been protesting against the bill in creative ways. Earlier this month, a larger-than-life statue of Likud MK and culture minister Miri Regev, who tabled the bill, was unveiled in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
On Sunday evening, November 25, in a highly symbolic event, artists were invited to come and burn their works of art in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Ha-Medina “to sacrifice them as victims of the loyalty law.” In a speech before the event, illustrator and organizer Zeev Engelmayer said, “This law will lead to art in the service of the government. We are on the edge of a slippery slope that will lead us to disaster”. Before burning an effigy of his cartoon character Shoshke Engelmeyer added, “If we do not start to fight the situation now, it will be too late. Art cannot exist without an independent agenda. The moment someone dictates to you, it is no longer art, but propaganda.” Last week a video clip released by the Israeli Democracy Institute showed what would happen to beloved classics of Israeli cinema and theatre, if the word of the proposed law would be followed. On Monday, a demonstration featuring motion artists crawling on the ground and attended by hundreds took place next to the Knesset blocking traffic on adjoining Kaplan street. Among the demonstrators was Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List).
Since assuming her role as culture minister following the 2015 elections, Regev has made numerous threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that she deems disloyal to the state.
Two years ago, she walked out of the Ophir awards — Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars — when a poem by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was read, because his work contains objections to the existence of a Jewish state.
She also panned last year’s critically acclaimed film Foxtrot as a defamation of Israel. The film’s plot focusing on parents grieving the loss of their son is largely allegorical, but Regev insisted the film — which includes a scene of Israeli soldiers committing a war crime — amounted to “self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.” After its release, Regev asked the Israel Film Fund to provide detailed information about the approval process for movies, in an attempt to clamp down on state funding for films critical of government policies.
Earlier this month, Regev asked the Finance Ministry to examine the financing of the Haifa International Film Festival, due to the screening of “subversive” films. The two films that attracted the minister’s ire were Out, which tells the story of a former Israeli soldier who joins a right-wing organization that tries to damage the reputation of human rights activists, and Acre Dreams, which depicts a love story between a Jew and an Arab at the time of the British Mandate.