During a meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on Wednesday, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) addressed the criticism the new legislation she is proposing, which would cut off government funding to institutions that degrade state symbols or the flag, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, deny Israel’s right to exist, reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or incite to violence, terrorism, or racist hate crimes.
Regev has previously said that her bill`s aim is ”for the first time, to make support for a cultural institution dependent on its loyalty to the State of Israel.”
Speaking before the committee, the minister said ”Freedom of expression is part of the State of Israel`s DNA, and I have no intention of harming it, but the state will not fund a cultural body which subverts or burns its flag… What`s all the fuss about? About the fact that I am demanding that a budgeted body will operate in accordance with the law?”
In addition to giving her ministry decision-making power over funding, the new legislation, an amendment to the Budget Law, will call for significantly increasing the fines levied on cultural institutions that violate the law, and will allow the Culture Ministry to cancel funding before it is paid out, and not only retroactively as is the case today.
”I do not plan to deal with censorship,” Regev told the committee members. ”The bill does not deal with supervision on this or that institution; this does not interest me. Criticism – yes; locking horns – yes; but no undermining the State of Israel. Cultural institutions are not above the law.”
Regev said she would create equality by allocating more funds to cultural institutions in the geographic and social periphery, as well as to Arab and haredi institutions.
MKs from the left and right praised Minister Regev for transferring more funds to cultural institutions in the periphery, but MK Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp) asked that she refrain from restricting artists. ”Culture, by definition, must be breathing and kicking so that people may be exposed to content that challenges the existing reality,” he told the minister. ”I believe your job is to expand art rather than contract it.”
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said, ”We are proud to be the only democracy in the Middle East, and therefore I have never grasped the combination of the words `loyalty` and `democracy`.
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said the lack of investment in culture was a ”scandal”, adding that he supports the struggle to increase the cultural budget. ”It is never called cultural censorship. Rather, it is referred to as undermining the foundations of the state. This is a dangerous measure,” he stated.
Likud MK Anat Berko argued that the state should not fund ”mind-poisoning shows” and ”incitement under the guise of culture and pluralism.” She added that ”the method that is being proposed here is not muzzling, but a choice of how we want to raise our children and which horizons we want to expose to them.”
MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), meanwhile, said ”for years the criteria were determined according to a small Tel Avivian milieu, but now the time has come for a change.”
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Camp) praised Minister Regev for ”moving mountains,” but added that ”theater must be subversive. I don’t appreciate theater that is not subversive, and I have no interest in culture that is not permissive.” Turning to Regev, he said ”You have loads of good intentions and you will create a revolution. Forget about this nonsense and let theater do its kicking.”
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) also addressed Regev`s proposed amendment to the law, saying ”this creative and subversive thing is fine, but why must the state`s foundations be undermined? And why should have to pay for it with the taxpayers` money? We do not have to fund it.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said ”This whole process is unnecessary. This law is unnecessary and makes me ask – are you patriots or idiots?”
MK Osama Sa`adi of the Joint List praised the increase in the budgets for the Arab sector, but added ”I know this bill has not even begun to materialize. Enough with making headlines; we need to work and promote culture. You are the Minister of Culture, not the chief censor of the State of Israel.”
Zionist Camp MK Stav Shafir told Regev, ”This intervention and intimidation of artists is what is destroying culture. Stop with this cowardly intervening.”
During the meeting, Minister Regev exchanged verbal jabs MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), who said ”this arrogance of `me, me, me` also caused damage to the IDF during the Second Lebanon War.” He also mentioned Regev`s role in the Gaza Disengagement plan, saying ”During the disengagement she (Regev) celebrated more than during the Second Lebanon War.” In response, Regev said, ”You are a despicable man.”
Later, after Stern had already left the meeting, Regev said ”There is some unfinished business between us, and he decided to bring it here. True, I was the IDF spokesperson during difficult times – the disengagement and the Second Lebanon War. I felt the pain of the disengagement along with all of the people of Israel; I still feel it to this day. But I wasn`t the head of the IDF`s Manpower Directorate; I did not make up a reality. As IDF spokesperson, I had to `clean up` for a week after Stern spoke to the media.” Regev further said that Stern had ”leaked military documents to [Yesh Atid MK] Yair Lapid and was reprimanded for it. When a man talks out of frustration and envy, I can only pity him and tell him to study the material before attacking.”
MK Yakov Margi (Shas), chairman of the committee, concluded the heated debate by saying he was ”encouraged and strengthened” because it addressed ”poignant issues,” and praised Minister Regev, in the name of all the MKs on the panel, for her plan to allocate a more equitable budget.