Israel’s Re-education Bill

Giving a politician the authority to determine who is an inciter and who is not, who is sufficiently 'Jewish and democratic' and who is not, is an anti-democratic act

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, middle, claps for her fellow countryman, during the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 27, 2018.
AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

The so-called cultural loyalty bill is scheduled to go to the floor of the Knesset Monday for the final two rounds of voting before passing into law. Despite the numerous objections raised during deliberations in the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, and notwithstanding the unequivocal opinion issued by the Knesset counsel, according to which comprehensive changes were needed for the bill to meet the threshold of constitutionality, only cosmetic changes were made.

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Members of the governing coalition boasted that the bill was “tempered” or “sterilized,” but it is just as harmful as it was before the changes. The authority to slash, or even withhold entirely, state funds allocated to artists and institutions, will be the exclusive prerogative of the minister of culture. The grounds for denying state funds — incitement, disrespecting or desecrating symbols of the state, supporting terrorism, denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state and addressing the Nakba — will remain vague.

The problem isn’t only in the bill’s name — “culture loyalty.” The bill doesn’t call for a “declaration of loyalty” as part of the budgeting process. But the name reflects the purpose and the consequences of the draft law, because it gives the culture minister the sole authority to interpret those vague terms. Miri Regev herself asked the finance minister, on the basis of these pretexts, to deny funds to cultural institutions under the current law, dubbed the Nakba Law, but he and other treasury officials objected.

The bill’s purpose is not only to deny funds, but mainly to generate a cooling effect on an area in which creativity, criticism and diversity are supposed to thrive. Already, numerous cultural institutions are evaluating the extent of the “risk” they are taking in using critical artistic content.

Since a considerable number of Israeli cultural institutions are dependent on government funding, the true goal of the draft law is to coerce these institutions to try to appease the government. The Culture Ministry is functioning as a re-education ministry.

The funds allocated to a government ministry is not meant to be distributed only to people whose political views align with those of the cabinet minister who heads it. Giving a politician the authority to determine who is an inciter and who is not, who is sufficiently “Jewish and democratic” and who is not, is an anti-democratic act. There’s no point in softening and amending this bad bill. It must be withdrawn immediately.