Netanyahu Steps Into Culture Brawl

YERUSHALAYIM -

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu backed up Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) on Monday in her squabble with Israel’s left-dominated arts leaders, saying that no one has an inalienable right to public funding.

Regev, who said she would not approve funding for subversive cultural projects, became the target of taunting remarks from prominent actor Oded Kotler on Sunday:

“Imagine your world, Mrs. Regev,” he said, “as a quiet world, with no book, no music, no poem, a world with no one to disturb… no one to disturb the nation, in its celebration of 30 mandates, followed by a marching herd of beasts chewing straw and stubble,” said Kotler, referring to the Likud supporters and their recent electoral victory.

Regev had cited the 30 mandates when she told a gathering of cultural representatives that the Likud electoral victory was her mandate to set criteria for funding. Their leftist candidates, she reminded them, got only 20 mandates in the Knesset.

“The statements made yesterday against a large and precious part of Israel’s public deserve to be condemned,” Netanyahu said at a Likud meeting on Monday.

“The law allows anyone to say his piece and to create [something about] whatever is on his mind,” the prime minister continued. But “the right [to free speech] does not mean that everything that is said and created has the right to public funding. We must separate between these two things.”

Kotler was widely criticized on Monday, even by liberal-left politicians who are generally supportive of the arts community in Israel.

Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid went so far as to agree with a ruling a few days ago by Education Minister Naftali Bennett withholding funding of a play that glorifies a Palestinian terrorist.

“Israeli society is allowed to define what is allowed and what is not. We must not fund a play about the life of a terrorist who kidnapped and murdered an IDF soldier. We must not finance a film about the life of Yigal Amir, the murderer of the prime minister [Yitzhak Rabin]. We must not call those who think differently from us a beast.”

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres condemned on Monday the screening of a documentary film about Amir. Regev said she would also consider cutting funding to the Yerushalayim International Film Festival, which is showing the film.

Opposition chairman MK Yitzhak Herzog said that “even artists and intellectuals need to know that during a difficult and justified debate, one should choose to treat people who think differently with dignity. Even when their opinion drives one crazy.”

However, at a Zionist Camp meeting later on Monday, Herzog amended his statement, equating Regev’s remarks with Kotler’s.

“There is no difference between Kotler’s unnecessary statements and Regev’s dangerous threats against arts and culture,” Herzog charged. “Miri Regev is the minister of Culture and she must not continue to use the tools she learned when she served as chief censor.” She was the chief press and media censor in 2004-05, before becoming IDF spokesperson in 2005.

“There is no reason that in a democratic country any artist or creator should be financially threatened or their works punished because of their opinions,” Herzog said.