Cultural McCarthyism as Old as Israel Itself

The days of McCarthyism in literature, culture and arts are nothing new, in fact they go back to the pre-state days of the Yishuv.

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 15, 2016.
Karin Glassman

After a short era of democracy, Israel has become, as astute writers on this editorial page have pronounced, a fascist country. And as a derivative of this, an apartheid nation.

Now, when the Culture Ministry asks to receive the minutes of the meetings of the committees that allocate the government funding for producing Israeli films, the deterministic deterioration into McCarthyism is unavoidable. Israel is sinking into long years of darkness.

As part of the conspiracy to strangle creative freedom, the nefarious Miri Regev, minister of culture and sports, is demanding that the funds that receive money from her ministry disclose the minutes of their closed-door discussions. Of course, such demands to expose these cultural secrets to those who lack the proper cultural clearance have been met with overwhelming opposition by the funds and their defenders.

Last week, Haaretz reported these McCarthyist demands in its main headline, and quite a number of pages were devoted to describing the decrees about to be enacted against free expression, if such sensitive information is available to the minister and the public. Last Thursday Haaretz’s editorial, along with other articles and opinion pieces, continued with the denunciation of the phenomenon.

Thanks to the struggles by Haaretz and other groups, in 1998 the Knesset passed the Freedom of Information Law, which states that every citizen (and even resident!) has the right to receive information from any public body, subject to security limitations. The law, as its explanatory notes state, is intended to introduce a revolution of transparency in Israel.

Among all the credit due to Haaretz for promoting transparency and freedom of information, I would like to mention the High Court of Justice petition filed against the Council for Higher Education’s planning and budget committee, which refused to disclose to the newspaper the minutes of the closed meetings, from which it was possible to learn to whom, and with what justifications, the committee allocates (or avoids allocating) its budget.

The High Court, with an unusual seven-judge panel, ruled unanimously that because these were government funds, the minutes must be made public. The High Court ruling expanded the obligation of government bodies, and those funded by the government, to reveal information from internal discussions. The High Court also ruled that the planning and budget committee’s fears that exposing their minutes would make it more difficult for committee members to speak freely, knowing the minutes would be available to everyone, does not justify preventing their publication. Plain and simple. The High Court also rejected the CHE’s claims that this would involve retroactive disclosure of discussions in which the speakers did not know their words would become public.

A simple question from a simple man: If government-funded bodies have the obligation to provide information to every citizen, then why should it be forbidden to provide it to Miri Regev too? After all, she bears ministerial responsibility for her ministry’s budget allocations, when the secret groups of experts decide who will receive them and who will not. Does it seem logical, forget about legal, that the minister responsible is not allowed to see such information?

Some of the institutions involved plan on petitioning the High Court of Justice. Knowing the double standard of High Court decisions in other areas, I will not be shocked if in this instance the High Court orders the cancellation of the requirement of transparency that it imposed.

“Regevism” is the Israeli expression of McCarthyism? Don’t make me laugh, Uri Klein, film critic of Haaretz. More than many others, you should know that the days of McCarthyism in literature, culture and arts are as many as the days of Israel, in fact they go back even farther, to the pre-state days of the Yishuv.

It is enough to mention the boycotts against Uri Zvi Greenberg, Israel Eldad, Moshe Shamir, Naomi Shemer and many others, some of whom were also driven into poverty and starvation (and their children persecuted by teachers and students alike) because they did not toe the line of the “proper art” that was dictated, and is still dictated to this day, by the local form of Zhdanovism.