Culture Minister clashes with artists over controversial bill

Culture Minister Miri Regev yesterday clashed publicly with artists at a conference, as she defended a controversial bill over state funding for cultural initiatives.

The so-called ‘loyalty in culture’ bill would deny state funding to cultural initiatives which violate certain conditions. These include those which incite racism, violence or terrorism, or support armed conflict against Israel. More controversially, the draft legislation also covers those which refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of tragedy for the Palestinian people. Opponents have claimed that the bill would stifle free speech.

However, appearing yesterday at a Haaretz culture conference, Regev took to the stage and was greeted with booing from the audience of artists. She opened by stating crudely, “As a well-known Chinese philosopher once said: ‘Cut the bullshit.’” Regev explained, “No one demands Israeli creators of culture to toe the line of the government. No one is afraid of criticism, even the most scathing criticism. No one is trying to silence you.” But, she said, “It is unimaginable for a country that wants to continue existing to fund plays, movies and cultural institutions that strive to undermine the very nature of its existence.” Regev was repeatedly interrupted and Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn intervened asking the audience to allow her to finish her address.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit recently approved Regev’s proposed legislation, with several important caveats. For example, he stipulated that Regev’s ministry would not be allowed to cut all funding based on the law’s criteria, but would be permitted to reduce a budget by up to 6 per cent. Although it has already elicited strong debate, the bill must still be discussed and approved by the Knesset.

In another controversial legislative initiative, Likud MK Yoav Kirsch, yesterday proposed a bill imposing financial restrictions on organisations looking to influence Knesset elections. It is thought to particularly target the V15 movement, which campaigned against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to last year’s election.

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