AG's Office: Israeli Cultural Minister Can’t Cut Cinema’s Funding Due to Conscientious Objector Event

Panel discussion at Tel Aviv Cinematheque features Tair Kaminer, which caused culture minister to threaten to reduce venue's budget.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, July 2016.
Alex Kolomoisky

The Culture and Sports Ministry cannot reduce funding to the Tel Aviv Cinematheque just because it’s hosting a panel discussion featuring a conscientious objector, the deputy attorney general informed Culture Minister Miri Regev on Sunday night.

Dina Zilber said the Budget Foundations Law lists the grounds on which the government may cut funding for an institution, and “stripping an institution of its funding because of an open public debate” in these circumstances “is not possible.”

As far as the Justice Ministry could determine, the event in question, which takes place Monday, is “an academic, theoretical discussion on the issue of freedom of conscience as a moral justification versus religious justifications for refusing” to serve in the army, Zilber wrote. Consequently, it didn’t fall within the closed list of reasons specified by law.

Moreover, she said, cutting the Cinematheque’s funding because of this event would undermine freedom of expression, which certainly isn’t possible without explicit authorization in law.

Finally, Zilber wrote, Regev herself doesn’t have the authority to cut anyone’s funding. This can only be done by the finance minister, following a regimented process that would include granting the organization a hearing, getting a legal opinion from the treasury’s legal adviser and obtaining the opinion of the relevant professional advisory committee.

The event in question – “Who’s Afraid of Freedom (of Conscience)?” – features a screening of Uri Barbash’s documentary “Clear Conscience,” which recounts the stories of several people who refused to do army service during the previous decade, followed by a panel discussion.

The panelist who aroused Regev’s ire was Tair Kaminer, who spent over five months in jail for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. The army eventually dismissed her last month as unfit for service. The other three panelists are all Israel Prize laureates: director Yehuda “Judd” Ne’eman (for film); Prof. Edit Doron (for linguistics); and Prof. Zeev Sternhell (for political science).

The event was organized by the people behind the Solidarity Festival for Film Activism and Human Rights, which has been held at the Cinematheque every April for the last four years.

This isn’t the first time the Justice Ministry has thwarted Regev’s desire to intervene in cultural institutions. After Regev criticized Army Radio’s playlist last November for not including enough Middle Eastern music, Zilber ruled that she had no authority to interfere in the station’s content.