Just Say No to the Censorship of Culture in Israel

Recent remarks by the new Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev, have done nothing to allay fears of the damage she could wreak to her domain.

Lior Mizrachi

When it was announced that Miri Regev was to be the culture and sports minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government, some people made jibes about her suitability for the position, based on her reputation as a loud and inflammatory politician who sees the world in clear terms of good and pure (us) and evil and impure (the entire world, including groups in Israel that don’t think “as we do.”)

In her remarks immediately before taking office, Regev reinforced her image as someone with a simplistic view of reality who lacks a comprehension of basic concepts in the areas for which she is responsible.

Regev praised Israeli society as a “large variety of subcultures, colors, sounds and styles that together create the unique Israeli experience that is our glue, which unites and strengthens us.” In the name of pluralism, Regev promised that during her term in office, culture would come to “all parts of Israel,” including “Judea and Samaria.” But “pluralism” means, first and foremost, the ability to include — and even encourage – sounds, styles and above all “opinions” — which are absent from the variety noted by Regev —– that deviate from the “glue” and challenge the cluster of “us.”

The new minister went on to say that “in the name of that pluralism I won’t lend a hand to undermining the image of the State of Israel, Israel Defense Forces soldiers or the state’s heritage as a Jewish and democratic state.” The image of the State of Israel, IDF soldiers or the state’s heritage as a Jewish and democratic state are damaged every day — not by state-sponsored cultural institutions that sometimes present controversial plays, but by the policies of the Israeli government, the reality of occupation that forces those soldiers to deal with difficult moral challenges and creates de facto apartheid, the religious bureaucracy that controls civil society, corruption that has become the norm and the ultranationalist and racist trends in Israeli society itself. If anything, the liberal local culture is a successful ambassador for the state.

The value of cultural activity is measured by its willingness to examine and to shatter images, both genuine and fasle, out of freedom of thought and of expression. That is how culture differs from propaganda, which is also under Regev’s authority.

Upon taking office, Regev said, “if it is necessary to censor, I will censor.” A culture minister who believes “it is necessary to censor” and is willing to do so is a fearful thing to contemplate, and the worry is that she could do great damage to her domain.