No Nakba, No Boycott: Israeli Minister to Get Power to Crack Down on Cultural Institutions

Culture Minister Miri Regev has been trying to receive an authority similar to the one the finance minister has, to retroactively suspend funding for cultural activities that 'contravene the principles of the state.' Now she has the finance minister on her side

Moshe Kahlon and Miri Regev
Rami Chelouche

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon are promoting an amendment to the Culture and Art Law that would give the culture minister the authority to retroactively suspend funding for cultural activities that “contravene the principles of the state,” similar to the authority already granted to the finance minister.

The bill would allow the Culture Ministry to reduce the budget of these institutions or deny it entirely because of any activity that contradicts one of five areas: denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; Incitement to racism, violence and terrorism; Supporting an armed struggle or an act of terrorism, an enemy state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel; Marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning; An act of vandalism or desecration that violates the honor of the flag of the state or its emblem.

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The procedure is similar to those currently enshrined in the Nakba Law and the Boycott Law. In these laws, the Finance Ministry – but not the Culture Ministry – is granted the power to cut state funding to any institution that publicly observes Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning or impose financial penalties on a person or company that calls for a boycott of Israel or the settlements. In a joint statement issued by Regev and Kahlon, the ministers said that they decided to promote the new law "after it became clear that the tools provided by the Budget Law do not allow proper and proportional treatment of this phenomenon and that the existing law cannot be enforced."

"There is artistic freedom in Israel but not the freedom to exploit public funds in order to harm the values and symbols of the state," the ministers said. "The purpose of the law is to provide tools to the authorized bodies in order to prevent harm to the basic values of the state. Freedom of expression is a worthy and important value but democracy has the right to defend itself."

The ministers went on to state, "In Israel there are artists who have gained international renown and bring honor to the state and pride for all of us, but there is also a small and extreme group that does not miss an opportunity to incite against the State of Israel and the IDF."

The bill will be submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for approval in October.

Previously, Kahlon opposed this amendment and attempted to block Regev's efforts to receive powers similar to those of his ministry. 

According to the proposed law, a committee in the Culture Ministry would submit its findings regarding a particular publicly funded institution to the minister. The minister would then be obligated to hear the institution's position before deciding on the budget cut, which discussed the financing of the institution's activities, will turn to the Minister and present his findings.

According to the bill, if the institution's activity that is supported by the government is routine, the budget will be cut only from the part that contravenes the law. In addition, if the institution's activities that contravene the law consist of more than half of the institution's activities, the minister can determine that the institution won't be funded at all.

Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson said in response that "the minister for silencing culture is adding another law to the basket of anti-democratic laws of the Israeli government. We need an election soon."

Upon assuming office, Regev declared that she would act to create a situation in which institutions that negate Israel’s Jewish character would not benefit from public funding. Last year she met Attorney General Mendelblit to discuss the implementation of the law.

In August, Regev sent an angry letter to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, complaining that his ministry was not enforcing the laws. She said Kahlon was turning the laws into a dead letter. The Minister of Culture and Sports noted two events at the Jaffa Theater which prompted her to request the slashing of its budget. The first event honored poet Dareen Tatour, while the second one, held in June 2017, included readings from “prison notebooks”, a work written by Palestinian prisoners and edited by Einat Weizman.

Currently, the Culture Ministry has no authority to condition support for cultural institutions on the content they present. For example, when Regev appointed a panel to examine whether the films at the Nakba Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque were violating the law, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber told her she had no authority to make recommendations to the Finance Ministry to withhold funding or fine the cinematheque.

Haaretz recently reported that not one of the 98 requests filed with the Ministry of Finance over the last year, asking for the enforcement of the “Nakba Law,” has been adopted. 14 other requests regarding the enforcement of the “Boycott Law” also went unheeded by the Treasury’s legal adviser.