Opinion

Regev's Cultural Loyalty Law Represents the Israeli Patriotism of Cowards

Bezalel will go on teaching its students in the tradition of freedom of expression, which the ‘cultural loyalty law’ is trying to eliminate

FILE Photo: A fashion show put on by Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design
Emil Salman

They are cowards. This is the only way to explain the crude attempt to legislate the “loyalty in culture law.” They are afraid of the freedom of art, critical culture, artists and independent and objective intellectuals. Afraid of the written word, the image, the visual or material art, the power of art to give rise to thinking.

The proposed law from the school of Miri Regev wants to allow the culture minister, after consultation with the Israel Council of Culture and Art, to decide whether or not to cancel financial support or reduce this support to a cultural body, whose content it creates or distributes do not fit in with the opinions of government and its approach concerning the existence of the country and its fundamental principles.

>>In Israel, it’s ‘loyalty’ or culture | Editorial 

It is important to emphasize that this is not a fear of a specific activity of the cultural institution, or of bodies that serve as a front for illegal activities or terrorism, but simply groups whose content does not express enough loyalty to the state, according to the government’s view.

It is almost superfluous to explain why such legislation is inappropriate in a free and democratic country, and certainly does not represent the values of freedom of expression and striving for truth, which are safeguarded fundamental values in Israel.

What is worth noting is that this would deny public support for perfectly legal content that doesn’t cross the line in terms of freedom of speech, or they would already be outlawed as criminal under existing legislation which sets red lines to free speech – with regard to such issues as pornography involving minors or incitement to violence and racism.

FILE Photo: Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Rafi Kutz

The bill seeks to trap, isolate and choke off creative artists and those with critical or different views, including those who belong to minority groups, and particularly aims at Palestinian artists with differing views from the government with respect to the values of Israeli society. Such people have different positions on national symbols like the flag, or the country’s history and the way it was founded. This effort to choke off creators and artists with views is crude and violent, and if it were, heaven forbid, to succeed it would deal a mortal blow not only to Israeli culture and creativity, but also impact the desire of young, free people to live and create here, to invent, develop and innovate. It’s an anti-Israeli act, not a patriotic one.

As someone involved in higher education, raising Israel’s next generation of architects, designers and artists, I see this bill as a harsh blow to freedom of creative people, Israeli culture and the strength of Israeli democracy, with a free and open culture that permits inquiry, criticism and controversy without political intervention and without the dictates of values such as “loyalty” and “patriotism” based on just one school of thought, that of the government.

If the Knesset were to pass the Cultural Loyalty Bill into law, this would stain Israel’s image as a society that encourages freedom of culture and openness for all creators regardless of religion, race, gender or political views.

We at Bezalel shall continue to educate young artists in the tradition of freedom of speech and creativity and on the basis of the values of cultural openness, which doesn’t fear criticism or differing views.

Dr. Karniel is rector of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem and deputy president for academic affairs, and an expert in law and communications.