Artists Balk at Regev Loyalty Bill

YERUSHALAYIM -

Culture Minister Miri Regev’s next Knesset bill, which would condition funding for culture on loyalty to the state, has already provoked war cries on the left.

The bill would deny support to institutions and projects that degrade state symbols, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, deny Israel’s right to exist, or incite to violence, terrorism, or racist hate crimes.

Regev confirmed on Tuesday that such a bill is in the works, saying: “As I promised, the Culture Ministry will only support cultural institutions that are loyal to the state’s laws.”

While Regev insists that she seeks only that artists not break the law and not exploit freedom of expression to subvert the government, artists and the left accuse her of trying to use state power to muzzle dissenting voices.

Israel’s Cultural Institutions Forum condemned the proposal: “This is a bill that will allow politicians to strip the right of the freedom of expression from artists,” the forum said in a statement. “This makes Israel a state where the government controls how citizens live and what opinions they hold… The freedom of expression and, in that, the freedom to create, must be upheld to the very end.”

MK Nahman Shai (Zionist Camp) said, “The State of Israel was a free country before Miri Regev and her friends came, and it will survive them as well. The new political commissioners from the Likud’s creator are undermining the foundations of Israeli democracy. Free expression and the freedom of creation are its building blocks. We will fight them both inside and out of the Knesset.”

Several of Regev’s fellow Likud lawmakers came to her defense. “Loyalty to the state is a basic value, and there is nothing new here,” said David Bitan, according to Ynet.

Miki Zohar termed the bill “good, right, and justified.” Oren Hazan maintained that, “In Israel in 2016, it seems anyone who waves a flag is a radical right-winger, and whoever degrades it is a cultural hero. This is an ugly phenomenon that must stop.”

If such a law passes it would be the first time that eligibility for state funding would be made contingent upon loyalty.

Article 3a of the budget law currently states that a cultural institution can be fined retroactively for violation of the law, but it is the Finance Minister who rules on such matters. Regev’s bill would transfer that authority to the Culture Minister.

Moreover, contends Regev, because the Finance Ministry does not interface with cultural institutions, the state is in effect funding them without any supervision.

“Cultural institutions are not above the law. They must work according to the laws of the State of Israel and we must make sure of this … I have a responsibility for public monies and this law would grant me the authority to exercise my responsibilities…”