Miri Regev’s Modesty Patrol Is Israel's Burkini Ban

The culture minister comes to defend the sensibilities of 'the entire public' on the basis of what it deemed a mishap at an event the ministry itself produced – a singer in a bikini top.

Singer Hannah Goor at the Ashdod event, August 26, 2016.
Singer Hannah Goor at the Ashdod event, August 26, 2016. Eva Goor

Last year, Culture Minister Miri Regev launched a summer cultural festival, which came under criticism for the way it was funded. The accusations, including the claim that the ministry awarded the advertising contract for the event without issuing a tender, are now being investigated by the state comptroller. Through this project, Regev invited the public to participate in “fun cultural and sporting activities for the entire family, for free.”

This year, a scaled-down version of the festival included a performance by singer Hanna Goor. She claims her performance was cut short because she wore short shorts, a bikini top and a vest.

In response, the Culture Ministry published a statement saying, “The festival is intended for the entire public and financed by public funds. Goor’s performance didn’t respect the the whole public which came to this event ... This is precisely the difference between freedom of expression and freedom of funding. Therefore, orderly instructions will be issued to all the production companies working with the Culture Ministry to ensure that this policy is carried out at all events."

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

The modesty regime that the Culture Ministry is trying to enforce on events meant for the general public is the mirror image of France’s unconstitutional burkini law. The ministry’s statement to the media about its intent to issue instructions to all production companies that it works with and funds once again shows the absurdity of Regev’s conduct and that of her ministry, both of which devote a significant portion of their time and effort to seeking headlines and fueling pointless and heated arguments.

In this case, the culture minister depicts herself as defending the sensibilities of “the entire public” on the basis of what the ministry deemed a mishap at an event the ministry itself produced. And she is doing so despite the fact that the minister has no authority to define the bounds of what constitutes injury to the entire public’s sensibilities.

This incident is yet another demonstration of Regev’s tendency — and that of many other politicians — to engage in setting and defending social norms through Facebook statuses and Twitter tweets by exploiting events that aren’t even within their authority. Other examples include her establishment of a committee to come up with a Hebrew term for the geographical “periphery” and her attempts to deny government funding and support to artworks and institutions that harm “the state’s symbols and values.”

“Freedom of funding,” a term Regev uses frequently, is a euphemism for crude, unacceptable interference and an attempt to subordinate the cultural world to coercion and conservative values, which contradict its very essence. Freedom of expression in the cultural world takes precedence over any other value, because without it, culture cannot exist. After more than a year on the job, it’s high time for Regev to finally grasp what it means to run a government ministry in general and the Culture (and Sports) Ministry in particular.