For the Culture Minister, Whoever Undermines Her Undermines the State

Regev is deliberately misleading when she makes a distinction between funding and freedom of expression; but she's still more honest than the attorney general.

Alex Kolomoisky

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein surprised everyone and caused something of a storm when he “clarified” to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev that she has no authority to set content criteria for allocating funding to cultural institutions. What joy erupted among the artists and actors! An incredible victory had come their way from a totally unexpected source.

The left found itself in the awkward position of having to praise the attorney general, who suddenly discovered a small trove of principles in his pantry. “Harm to a production or the distribution of an artistic work based on its content would seriously damage the freedom of expression, since the content of a work is its heart and soul and essence,” deputy attorneys general Orit Koren and Dina Zilber wrote.

The culture minister, naturally, was not shocked into silence. “It’s not proper for the state to distribute funds to bodies that subvert it,” Regev wrote in response on her Facebook page. According to Regev, “There’s no connection between freedom of expression and freedom of funding.”

It looks as if Weinstein and Regev are digging themselves into two opposing trenches, one the symbol of enlightenment and liberalism, and the other adhering to narrow conservatism and nationalist tyranny. But herein lies the deception. After all, both of them will stand to attention when confronted with a threat of “subverting the state” through artistic means, propaganda or political activity, but neither defines what kind of “subversion” requires legal or administrative intervention.

Do they mean inciting posters, cartoons, opinion pieces, photomontages of the president and prime minister with Palestinian symbols, derisive songs or slanderous videos? Can’t all these be defined as artistic creations that qualify for freedom of expression protection, even if some of them are “subversive?” Is there any difference between these and a play or a film?

In theory, there is a difference between “private” creations, like those gracing the Facebook pages of the artists of Habayit Hayehudi, the settlers or the hilltop bullies, who do not enjoy special allocations to support their art, and an institutional work that suckles from the teats of the government budget. But according to this principle, those who do not win government funding will have total freedom of expression, while anyone who needs money will have to meet the political criteria.

Perhaps that’s what Regev meant when she spoke about the difference between freedom of expression and freedom of funding. The rich will be able to “subvert the state,” while the poor will have to toe the line. But that’s not all.

Regev is deliberately misleading when she makes a distinction between funding and freedom of expression. Because when rabbis and yeshivas enjoy huge budgets even as they instigate a public dialogue against the fundamental principles of law and democracy; when settler publications disparage the Supreme Court, and MKs and parties like Habayit Hayehudi, which exist on taxpayer money, revile the LGBT community, it’s not superfluous to wonder whether the Regev doctrine ought to apply to them as well. Perhaps she doesn’t think rebelling against the courts and derogating personal freedoms by artistic means is considered subversion.

It must be conceded that Regev is more honest and direct than Weinstein. The fence she uses to delineate freedom of expression is clear and adorned with large warning signs. Nor are the penalties for crossing them being hidden. Regev is the state, and whoever undermines Regev undermines the state, or vice versa.

Weinstein, on the other hand, is being sanctimonious. When he defends freedom of artistic expression with his body but ignores the freedom to incite, he actually restricts artistic expression. Because which theater, actor, musician or director will risk their lives to express their opinions – artistically, of course – when incitement rages unchecked?