Israel's National Lottery Bars Anti-occupation Veterans' Event

Prohibits gathering by Breaking the Silence in lottery-funded library because it is deemed political, even though similar events had taken place there in the past.

Breaking the Silence activists hold signs saying 'this is what the occupation looks like'  at a rally against incitement, Tel Aviv, December 2015.
Moti Milrod

The national lottery has banned an event by the anti-occupation veterans’ NGO Breaking the Silence, which was supposed to take place at a public library the lottery built in Kiryat Ono.

The event, organized by lawmaker Michal Rozin (Meretz), was slated to be held early next month.

Last week Culture Minister Miri Regev asked Kiryat Ono Mayor Yisrael Gal to cancel the event and threatened to reconsider her ministry’s financial support for the library if he didn’t. Gal responded that there was no way he could accede to this request, stressing that the library rents its facilities to members of all political parties.

But over the weekend, Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery, decided it would prohibit the event. The lottery had financed the library’s construction, and in a letter to the municipality it wrote that no building it financed could be used for party activity of any kind.

However, Mifal Hapayis has never before objected to a political event held at the library. Two months ago, for instance, the ruling Likud party held an event there for party activists featuring Knesset majority leader David Bitan and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Two years ago, in the run-up to the elections, the library hosted events with representatives of various parties, including Regev herself, her party colleague Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Zionist Union MKs Shelly Yacimovich, Itzik Shmuli and Yoel Hasson.

Though Gal had rejected Regev’s request, he said he could not similarly ignore the lottery’s demand.

“The municipal library, which also serves as a cultural center and has been rented in the past for political conferences, couldn’t legally cancel the event,” Gal explained on his Facebook page. Though personally, he “vehemently opposes” Breaking the Silence’s positions, “the city must act democratically; it must honor and preserve freedom of expression and not take a stance toward the content of events, as long as there’s no legal barrier to holding a given event. These are the rules of democracy and we must honor them, even if it’s sometimes controversial.”

But the situation changed upon receipt of the letter from Mifal Hapayis, Gal said, adding, “As the leader of a law-abiding municipality, I’ll obey the letter.”

Rozin blasted both Regev and the lottery for demanding her event’s cancelation.

“While the Culture Ministry and Mifal Hapayis never uttered a peep about political gatherings held in their institutions a few months ago, including those of the Likud party, now that it’s Meretz, a left-wing party, the threats of budget cuts begin and the claws come out,” she said. “This is unequivocal proof that bureaucratic arguments are being used for the purpose of political persecution and gagging, and an accurate reflection of how Mifal Hapayis is working for Regev the censor. The last word in this story hasn’t yet been said.”

Breaking the Silence said, “This isn’t the first time Miri Regev has increased demand for our events. Thanks to her censorship efforts, more people are coming to hear and understand why an organization of combat soldiers who tell about the occupation is so frightening to the culture minister. Regev’s threats are another example of the culture minister’s preference for the settlements of Hebron and Yitzhar to freedom of expression and democracy. Minister Regev is also invited to come to Kiryat Ono to hear from soldiers what the occupation looks like.”

Mifal Hapayis said that whenever it funds buildings, the recipient city “commits to using the building only for the purpose for which it was built and not for other matters.” Asked why it didn’t prevent previous political events from being held, it claimed it didn’t know about them.