The Knesset Education Committee Wednesday is set to discuss a proposal by Culture Minister Miri Regev that would expand the criteria for the funding of plays, concerts, art exhibitions and other cultural events to examine whether the content is damaging to Israeli security or society.
According to the proposal, works of art will not receive government funding if they unfairly denigrate the state, its symbols, or ethnic or religious groups. Thus, for example, the Ministry would no longer fund plays like one produced by Haifa’s Al-Midan Theater which discusses the 1984 kidnapping and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam, Hy”d – from the point of view of Walid Daka, the terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. The Ministry, claiming that the play was sympathetic to the murderer and implied that the soldier deserved his fate, halted funding for that play last June, setting off a furor in which Regev was accused of “stamping out democracy” and “destroying freedom of speech.”
The new law would codify a system that would examine other cultural events in the same manner – and that proposal has again set off loud criticism from culture professionals and politicians on the left. Many of those voices were heard Wednesday morning trying to shout down Regev as she presented her proposal.
In the proceedings, which were broadcast on the Knesset channel, Regev said that she had a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers’ money was spent properly. “What is the purpose of the Culture Ministry?” asked Regev rhetorically. “Is it to be a bank machine that automatically dispenses money to one and all, or is its purpose to set policy? In [other fields] we are active, and we take an active interest in how money is spent – but in culture, we have been passive, simply dispensing money in a pipeline to anyone, without examining its use.”
No longer, said Regev. “As long as I am Culture Minister, the Ministry will provide funding for events based on clear criteria that will ensure that the works we are paying for enhance Israeli society, and positively deal with the negative phenomena we face. Cultural institutions are not above the law. We all want to act within the law, and respect the principle of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state. Anyone who acts against Israel can do so if they wish, but not with state funding. This is a law. Why is everyone getting so upset? Because I want to enforce the law?”
In an official response, Zionist Camp MK Tzippy Livni said that “the real threat to Israel is terrorism, not culture. The current terror wave has been ongoing for four months, and the current government has totally failed in defending citizens. All it has to show for itself is a ‘culture loyalty law.’”