Israel’s High Court of Justice struck down Wednesday an initiative by Culture Minister Miri Regev conditioning state support for art institutions on whether they are willing to perform in West Bank settlements and fine those who refuse to do so, one of Regev’s most controversial achievements as culture minister.
The criteria for government support for theaters, orchestras and dance troupes signed by Regev in April 2016 include a clause that gives an extra 10 percent allocation for appearing in the territories, while reducing the allocation by 33 percent for not performing in the West Bank, Negev or the Galilee.
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The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the court in October 2016, claiming that the Culture Ministry regulations are illegal and violate freedom of conscience and expression.
The court rejected another clause of the petition demanding to cancel the handing out of fines to those who refuse to appear in settlements, citing that no are establishment thus far had been fined for refusing to appear in the West Bank.
The court also ordered the Culture Ministry to pay 25,000 shekels (about $7,100) in court cost to the ACR.
The ruling was delivered by a two-to-one majority, with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Hanan Melcer accepting the petition, and Justice David Mintz rejecting it.
The verdict added that cultural institutions will reserve the right to refuse to participate in events held in settlements.
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“Refraining from appearing in a controversial region constitutes an expression of opinion and such an expression merits protection. The right to freedom of expression obligates the authorities not to discriminate between people or institutions on the basis of their views and requires them to remain neutral,” Melcer wrote in the verdict.
Melcer added that providing incentives to institutions for appearing in the settlements harms the principle of equality, freedom of expression, and freedom of artistic expression.
“This incentive, beyond hurting equality, does unjustified damage to the right to freedom of expression of cultural institutions, whose budgets would be harmed in comparison to other institutions,” Melcer wrote.
Furthermore, Melcer said that by giving incentives, the government ignores the requirement that its ministers “will not seek to use the ‘freedom of funding,’ directly or indirectly, to reinforce the political stances of those comprising the government to ensure their continued rule.”
However, institutions that already enjoyed these incentives would not be required to pay back the funds. “My point of view on the matter stems from the fact that ordering cultural institutions to retroactively pay back the funds they had received as incentives could hurt them, since it’s likely that they have relied on those funds in their financial plans,” Melcer said.
Regev said in response that “The High Court has made its decision. No more boycotts! West Bank residents are not second-class citizens."
“The High Court proved this morning that my policy to prevent the exclusion of West Bank residents and prioritizing the periphery is right and just, and the policy of curtailing support for cultural institutions that refuse to perform in the West Bank and the periphery was not struck down,” Regev said.