Israeli Culture Minister to Haaretz Culture Conference: 'Cut the Bullshit'

Sparks fly as Miri Regev and audience trade accusations of hypocrisy.

Miri Regev at the Haaretz Culture Conference, March 6, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev was received with boos and catcalls when she arrived to speak at the Haaretz Culture Conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday. When she mounted the stage she was met by artists with Band-Aids over their mouths, in protest against what they say are her attempts to silence them; as well as by representatives of the choreographers association who have lost government funding, and who stood wearing red shirts as a sign of protest.

Her tense speech was interrupted many times by the audience, until Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn asked those present to allow Regev to finish.

Regev opened her speech with harsh criticism of the title of the conference: “Culture Requires Independence.” “They told me always to start with a quote because it makes a cultured impression, so here’s one. As a well-known Chinese philosopher once said: ‘Cut the bullshit,’” began Regev, and was immediately booed.

“The title ‘Culture Requires Independence’ insults the newspaper for thinking people," she said in reference to Haaretz's Hebrew slogan. It is not that your culture demands freedom [but that] your culture demands exclusive funding. That is your story,” said Regev.

“At the same time, the other culture, which for years was silenced and excluded, that is what is demanding independence,” she added. At this point someone in the audience called out at her, “Give us an example!”

“Actually, you people, who it seems should have been the ones to carry the flag in the name of pluralism and accepting the other that you so espouse, have chosen to ignore it.”

Regev also mentioned the “cultural loyalty law” she initiated, which is meant to deny funding for “actions against the principles of the state.”

“We will ensure loyalty to parts of the country and forbid boycotts!” At this stage, cries of “hypocrisy” and “hypocrite” were shouted at Regev, who then said, “Culture cannot boycott, not morally and not practically!”

“No one demands Israeli creators of culture to toe the line of the government. No one is afraid of criticism, even the most scathing criticism. No one is trying to silence you. But there is an enormous difference between harsh criticism and a call for a boycott or undermining the State of Israel,” she said.

“It is unimaginable for a country that wants to continue existing to fund plays, movies and cultural institutions that strive to undermine the very nature of its existence. Categorically, freedom of expression is important for democracy but the right to security overrides freedom of expression – you are not demanding [the right to level] criticism, but the destruction and ruin of what was built here. I am sorry there are a few amongst us and many on the outside who are calling to boycott Israel, its values and culture. A sane country must provide a clear message on the issue and certainly not finance those working to overthrow it. I compliment the attorney general for providing me with his blessing for this position,” said Regev.

“She hasn’t said anything new,” and “It’s already in the law,” were some of the things shouted at her when she spoke about the “cultural loyalty law.”

“The past few months have only clarified and exposed this view,” Regev continued. “From the moment I decided to shift cultural budgets to everyone who were not partners, I became the enemy of independent culture. The culture that pretends to be enlightened and just is unable to embrace a different culture,” she said.

“The distortions [between] the center and periphery can be changed with a fair distribution of budgets. We will clarify the difference between freedom of expression and freedom of funding, expose the hypocrisy and greed.”

Even when Regev spoke about the criteria for funding, the audience yelled things out at her. She said, “There are obstacles which are hidden deep in the sea of standards of what we call ‘funding criteria.’ Whoever does not meet them, fails. Guess who failed – Haredim, Arabs and the periphery,” she said. Once again people in the audience shouted out things like, “That’s not true.”

“The ministry handed out funds according to those same criteria, strengthened the strong, weakened the weak and was an ATM,” she said.