Top Court Slams Israel's Culture Ministry: 'Why Only Give Incentives for Performing in West Bank?'

Culture Minister Miri Regev previously demanded theaters and other cultural institutions sign a form declaring whether or not they had performed in performing in West Bank settlements.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, December 16, 2016.
Nir Keidar

Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor has rebuked the Culture Ministry for demanding that theaters and other cultural institutions sign a form declaring whether or not they had performed in West Bank settlements.

The High Court of Justice heard a petition submitted in October by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against Culture Minister Miri Regev for a series of incentives and fines introduced as a condition for state support for theaters, orchestras and dance troupes.

The petitioners said the requirements were a breach of the freedom of expression and the right to equality.

Naor and Justices Elyakim Rubinstein and Salim Joubran asked why the bonus was given to institutions only for performing in the West Bank, while fines were imposed on those who failed to perform in the West Bank, Negev or Galilee. The judges demanded the fines and bonuses be distributed on an equal basis.

The ministry said it would draft a new form on the basis of the court’s remarks and submit it within 30 days.

A clause in the forms allows for a 10 percent additional budget stipend for performing in the West Bank, while cutting 33 percent of funds to those who fail or "refrain" from appearing in the West Bank, Negev and Galilee.

The petition says both the fine and incentive are equally harmful to the freedom of expression, and similarly violate the right to equality of organizations that refuse to appear in the territories and others who cannot get there due to the absence of venues or meager demand.

“Who needs that form? Why is such a declaration necessary?” Naor asked. “They can report at the end of the year, as part of their reports, ‘I performed in Ariel or Kiryat Arba’ as a fact. ‘We refrained’ has a negative connotation. It demands an answer about ideology.”

The state’s representative, Attorney Ran Rosenberg, said the ministry will reexamine the form. “The form isn’t sacred,” he said. “We must distinguish between a statement of future intentions and a statement about past performances.”

The court suggested that the incentive, which is small in any case, be provided not only for performances in the West Bank but also for shows in the Negev and Galilee, just like the fine.

“If the bonus is so small then why not act in an egalitarian way? We’re dealing with a declaration, after all. Is it right to declare that ‘this place is preferred to any other?’ How does that fall in with our ruling about communities that get tax benefits? Shouldn’t the bonus be given on an equal basis as well?” Naor said.

Rosenberg replied that the West Bank was a sensitive issue and “the culture minister wants to reflect the government’s position that they’re citizens like in Kiryat Shmona.”

Naor shot back: “Even if it breaches equality? You can’t have it both ways.”

After reviewing the amended form the court will decide whether to hold another session.