'Freedom of Expression Is Not a License for Incitement': Israeli Ministers Advance 'Loyalty-in-culture' Bill

Culture Minister would have authority to slash government funding to cultural institutions which 'contravene the principles of the state' ■ Dozens of artists sign manifesto against the legislation

Miri Regev at the opening event for National Cinema day in Ramat Hasharon, October 10, 2018
Moti Milrod

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a law providing Israel’s culture minister will the authority to slash funding from cultural institutions that “contravene the principles of the state.” 

To really understand Israel and the Palestinians - subscribe to Haaretz

Previously, only the Finance Ministry had such authority, and it has never used it. But Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon supports giving the Culture and Sports Ministry this power as well.

The ministerial committee endorsed an amendment to the culture and art law that has become known as the “loyalty-in-culture bill.” It allows the Culture Ministry to reduce the budget of these institutions or cancel it entirely because of any of the following reasons: denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism, violence or terrorism; supporting armed struggle or an act of terrorism, an enemy state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel; marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning; or an act of vandalism or desecration of the flag and state symbols.

>> Who needs BDS: Israel scores speculator own goal in Argentina soccer fiasco | Analysis

The draft bill states that the attorney general finds that the legislation contains “genuine legal problems, even if they don’t reach the point of prevention [of its becoming law], and these will be explained to the cabinet by the attorney general.”

“As I promised, the cultural loyalty law is on its way,” Regev said Sunday. “I’m happy that a long battle that lasted for two years has reached an end. Freedom of expression is our guiding principle, and a central value in the life of the State of Israel as a democratic country, but preserving freedom of expression is not a license for incitement against the Jewish and democratic State of Israel. My amendment was supported by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and I would like to thank him for his understanding, support and assistance.”

The amendment grants authority similar to that currently enshrined in the nakba law and the boycott law. With these laws, the Finance Ministry – but not the Culture Ministry – was granted the power to cut state funding to any institution that publicly observes Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, or to impose financial penalties on a person or company that calls for a boycott of Israel or the settlements. In a joint statement issued by Regev and Kahlon, the ministers said they decided to promote the new law “after it became clear that the tools provided by the Budget Law do not allow proper and proportional treatment of this phenomenon and that the existing law cannot be enforced.”

The treasury’s legal adviser rejected all 98 requests to enforce the “Nakba Law.” Since the start of her tenure in 2015, Regev has tried to empower her ministry to make budgetary decisions on the subject, but until now there was insufficient support for transferring the powers to her.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attacked the law, saying that any institution in the city from which Regev seeks to withhold state funds will receive funding from the Tel Aviv municipality.

“Miri Regev’s ‘cultural loyalty’ law is a law for silencing people, passed by a government that has forgotten the meaning of democracy and doesn’t understand that without freedom of expression there will be no culture here. Tel Aviv-Jaffa will stand as a fortified wall against this distorted law,” he said. “We will ensure that anyone who is harmed by it will receive the assistance of the municipality. In our city artists will continue to create and criticize freely, without any censorship – and if that bothers someone in the cabinet, let them deal with it. Different kinds of Israeli art were here before this government and will be here after it goes.”

Earlier on Monday, dozens of intellectuals and cultural figures published a manifesto calling for the defeat of the bill. Among the signatories were author David Grossman, actress Liora Rivlin, poet Tuvia Ribner, choreographer Yasmeen Godder, sculptor Dani Karavan and many others. The text of the manifesto reads in part: “Israeli society is a strong and democratic society, whose fortitude also depends on its ability to conduct a pluralistic discussion, which respects a wide range of views and opinions.

“Funding culture is required in order to guarantee a space based on thought and creativity, for the good of all of Israeli society and its variety of movements and opinions,” wrote the signatories. “For that reason, this proposal 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.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told Haaretz, “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.”