The Knesset plenum Monday night approved in its first reading a bill that would allow the government to pull funding from organizations or events that feature any of five topics or themes:
Denial that the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement to racism, violence, or terror; support for the armed struggle or acts of terror against Israel by an enemy state or a terror group; marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning; or any act of destruction or physical degradation of the flag or any state symbol.
While presenting the bill to the Knesset plenum, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who initiated the legislation, said that ” The State of Israel has permitted, under its logo, plays, shows, tribute events and movie festivals which glorified terrorists and supporters of terror who sought to undermine its very existence. I am here to say, unequivocally, that freedom of expression and creation must not be freely translated into freedom to incite and to give perks and encouragement rewards to those who undermine our very existence.”
“There is no harm here to freedom of speech and art. There is no intention to silence people or stifle criticism,” said Culture Minister Regev said of the legislation. “A handful of artists, who haven’t really read the law and don’t understand it, are trying to mislead the public and are using their artistic stage for political purposes.”
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) said “Miri Regev wants a culture of rhinos; she wants everyone to be the same. This is the democratic State of Israel which is silencing people and not allowing creators to create.” The law, he added, “shames and disgraces the State of Israel.” Minister Regev, MK Shai argued, “wants to create fear and terror.” Israel “won’t be the same after this law.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said, “The Cultural Loyalty Law seeks to not only deny funding for whoever criticizes the government, it seeks to terrorize all of creativity. Since the dawn of history, art has freed thought and questioned forbidden things. Today the government has put all these things on the target board.””
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said the law “does not seek to protect the state’s existence or, G-d forbid, prevent incitement to racism or violence. On the contrary, it is an old-new product of a government which embodies racism, incitement and fanning the flames of hatred. A government which constantly feels that it has to protect itself. From what: from the principles of freedom, respect, peace, equality and an end to the occupation and the injustices done to an entire nation.”
MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said the law, “is another in a series of laws whose sole purpose is to indicate who is a traitor and who isn’t. I was a school principal for many years. There was a culture basket, and the best children handled everything, it did not hurt them. On the contrary, it made them pluralistic citizens who understand the complexity of Israeli society.
”MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) asserted that “you think that when people besmirch the reputation of IDF soldiers it doesn’t turn my stomach? It turns my stomach and how. However, this is the heart of democracy. You won’t teach me what loyalty to the state is. Today they are targeting a poet and tomorrow they will be targeting anyone who thinks differently than them. There is a fine line between nationalism and ultra-nationalism and with this law you are crossing that line. This is a degrading law and it would have been better if it had not been born.”
Leader of the Opposition MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) added that “culture does not exist if the government oversees it. Instead of culture, we will receive propaganda. Culture is not government, it is people who display their emotions to the outside world, and many a time they do not feel what the government would like them to feel. They love the country but sometimes want to voice criticism and that is what creates the Israeli mosaic and the various pieces together create a cultural picture that one can and should be proud of. But the artists today know that they are expected to be submissive.”
Fifty-five MKs voted in favor of the bill and 44 objected to the amendment to the Culture and Art Law that would permit the culture minister to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state.” The bill has been transferred to the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee for further debate.