There was ostensibly no reason for the so-called cultural loyalty bill to meet its demise in the Knesset. Some 70 percent of the public supports it. All the right-wing parties in the government coalition — and now in the opposition as well — voted for it in the initial stage of the legislative process, and even Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit gave it his blessing.
We have seen bills pass into law that were more controversial and harder to stomach. Moreover, the cultural loyalty bill, which would give the culture minister the authority to retroactively suspend government funding for cultural activities that “contravene the principles of the state,” already exists in the form of the so-called Nakba Law, which confers similar authority upon the finance minister to cut state funding to entities that openly reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or that mark Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning.
Miri Regev, the culture minister and retired military censor, has been seeking to have those powers transferred to her ministry so that she can sow fear among artists, writers and heads of cultural institutions on the eve of the Likud primaries. But a week ago, the coalition underwent an amputation and was left with a razor-thin 61-seat majority. This presents a new situation requiring new demeanor: the caution of a brain surgeon, the delicateness of a lace embroiderer and the emotional intelligence of an educational psychologist. Not exactly the epitome of the lady who happened into the Culture and Sports Ministry.
Passing laws during such an unstable period and with such a small majority, when people have their sights set on elections that are not so far off, requires sensitive and secretive work behind the scenes. Based on Regev’s spectacle in the Knesset, it seems that somebody there hasn’t changed their way of thinking — and hasn't noticed that the coalition now controls 61 seats rather than 66.
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Knesset member David Bitan expressed it well when he was recorded as saying: “We want a government [to last] until May," while Regev is calling press conferences and inflaming matters. "We don’t need to spark antagonism.”
Regev’s unbridled assault on Netanyahu’s most important coalition partner, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, whom she accused of nothing less than “transferring money to terrorists and Jew-haters,” is a symbol of total loss of control. If there was still the slightest chance of breathing life into the dead body of the cultural loyalty bill, she thrust a dagger into the heart of what was the apple of her eye.
We will never know if she made her comments with Netanyahu's blessing. It is only infrequently that she acts independently, without instructions from the Prime Minister's Residence. There are unpopular bills that the Knesset passes by virtue of the political and personal abilities of the relevant cabinet minister. When the sponsor is Regev, whose art is castigation, whose coarseness is her flagship and argumentativeness her trademark, her partners don't go out of their way to help her. It's possible that if it had been a calmer and more affable minister, the result would have been different.
Regev’s defeat prompted mainly schadenfreude in the government and the Knesset. Her term will be remembered mainly as a cacophony, and the press conference characterized her better than any newspaper article could have. On Monday, in an act of unparalleled cynicism, she explained the necessity of the bill as being the will of “the bereaved parents” and terror victims. This woman, who just a week ago dragged the case of a child — Daniel Tragerman, who was killed by a mortar shell on the Gaza border in the 2014 Gaza war — presents herself as a martyr to mourning.
About an hour after her press conference, in which she basically conceded her failure while hurling accusations at Kahlon and former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as if they work for her, the Likud Knesset faction held a meeting. Prime Minister (and Defense Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu reported on his encounter with newly inducted soldiers, a ritual every defense minister carries out. He didn’t mention a word about his political colleague's failed flagship bill.
He doesn’t like to be associated with failure. If the bill had passed, we would have heard victorious boasts.
It wouldn't be entirely fair to place all the blame for the legislative fiasco on Regev. The failure has another father named Netanyahu. At a news conference that Avigdor Lieberman called, before Regev, he revealed the deal: The Prime Minister's Office had been prepared to commit that the Likud faction would support a bill on the death penalty for terrorists, the apple of Lieberman's eye, in exchange for Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu faction's support for the so-called Gideon Sa'ar bill. That bill would require the president to call on the leader of a party rather than a junior faction member to form a government.
That's the story. Right-wing, ideological bills are not important to Netanyahu. They bore him. He has his sights only on the bill that would purportedly require the president to call on him to form the next government.
"It's not ideology. It's seatology," Lieberman said, and just for the fun of it added: "We know Miri Regev," whom he said spoke with the same enthusiasm as army spokeswoman at the time about the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.