Israel's Culture Minister Told State Funding Can't Be Withheld Over Content of Work

Attorney general's deputies spell out limits of Miri Regev's powers, but she's still considering changes to funding criteria, and the law, for 2016.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev at the weekly cabinet meeting, June 21, 2015.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The attorney general’s deputies have instructed Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev that the content of artistic works must not be taken into consideration when deciding funding for cultural institutions.

After she became culture minister in May, Regev (Likud) announced that she intended to change the criteria for government support for cultural institutions. This was partly because of the Arab play “A Parallel Time,” performed at the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa and inspired by the story of a Palestinian serving a life sentence for murder. Regev had ordered that state support for the theater be frozen.

However, in response to a request from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Deputy Attorney Generals Orit Koren and Dina Zilber said on Sunday that Regev is not legally allowed to change funding criteria based on the content of the work.

“Changes in the criteria for support in a manner that includes an examination of the content of the work, if it was conducted, could cause some of the cultural institutions to avoid providing expression to specific positions, out of fear that it would endanger government support,” they wrote to ACRI. “Such harm to a production or the distribution of an artistic work based on its content would seriously damage the freedom of expression, since the content of a work is its heart and soul and essence; therefore it is opposed by the attorney general,” they added.

In response to the attorney general’s position, Regev is set to send out a letter to cultural institutions in which she will clarify the legal issue, Haaretz has learned.

In addition, the minister intends to limit the validity of the existing funding criteria for cultural institutions until the end of 2015, and plans to introduce new criteria, starting in 2016. This will give priority to institutions in the periphery and various population groups, based on her policies. But this process could take quite a while, and it is possible there will not be time for institutions to present their funding requests for 2016 based on the new criteria.

Regev has said she does not intend to change the criteria for funding at this stage, but is considering amending the law to allow her to do so. In response, Zilber and Koren hinted at possible legal complications that would require Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to examine the changes and decide whether they violate the principles of human rights set out in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. “The relevant considerations for support in this area are artistic and professional considerations, which professionals are responsible for examining, and we must continue to preserve this separation,” they wrote.

Dan Yakir, ACRI’s chief legal counsel, said it was important the attorney general had clarified that there were limits to Regev’s power, and had warned her of the damage to artistic freedom of expression. The attorney general had refuted Regev’s position that she had the authority to decide, based on her own opinion, which cultural institutions would be supported, and it was not her responsibility to decide on support for a specific work of art or cultural institution. “Preserving these principles will guarantee the freedom of creativity and prevent politicization of cultural support,” added Yakir.

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