Israel: Proposed ‘loyalty bill’ to impact on artistic expression

Miri Regev

The Israeli Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, wants to make allocation of funding of arts projects conditional upon the recipient’s loyalty to the Jewish state.

At the end of January 2016, Miri Regev, Israel’s minister of culture and sport, proposed an amendment – dubbed the “loyalty in culture” bill – that would slash government funding for any arts organisation not “loyal to the state”. The bill would allow the ministry to deny state subsidies to groups that disrespect state symbols or the flag, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, deny Israel’s right to exist, reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or incite to violence, terrorism, or racist hate crimes.


Fierce debate
The proposal has prompted accusations of censorship and sparked a fierce debate about racism, free speech and the future of Israeli democracy. Numerous artists, writers and political leaders, including Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, have come out against the bill.

The Israeli-Arab human rights organisation Adallah condemned the legislation, calling it an effort to harm Israeli-Arab artists whose political opinions differ from that of the government: “The minister’s proposal gives significant preference to artists depending on their ideological and political stance, rather than the art being created,” a statement from group said.

Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov stated that, “Freemuse is deeply concerned about tendencies in several countries, including Israel, to censor and control support to artistic expressions in the name of ‘national interests’. Being critical is neither undermining nor being disloyal to the interests of the state. The abusive language used by the Minister is rather undermining the credibility of the Israeli government being able to protect artistic freedom.”


Proportional budgeting proposal
As a response to Regev’s initiative, Dr Youssef Jabareen, who is a member of the Israeli parliament, Knesset, submitted a proposal on 10 February 2016 to establish proportional budgeting from the Ministry of Culture to the Arab community, suggesting that the Arab population should not receive less than 20 per cent of the ministry’s funding, which is their percentage of the total Arab population in Israel. Currently the Arab community only receives three per cent of the Ministry of Culture’s budget.

This proposal, however, was rejected by the Knesset by a vote of 45 against and 37 for.


Approval by Justice Ministry
On 24 February 2016, Israel’s Justice Ministry approved the legislation proposed by Miri Regev.

The Justice Ministry’s Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, however, did not agree to allow works to be reviewed in advance as a condition for obtaining government funding; nor will he allow the ministry to deny full funding to groups that refuse to appear in certain locations such as the West Bank settlements.

The bill now will be brought before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, and Regev intends to have it pass its first reading before the Knesset breaks for its recess at the end of March 2016.

Regev described the proposed legislation that would withdraw government funding from cultural institutions deemed disloyal to the State of Israel as an effort to “redefine and update the priorities of the cultural world in Israel.” In her opinion, “the freedom to be funded plus the freedom of expression are the DNA of Israeli society, and every other democratic society.”


Photo above from video on youtube.com by Haaretz.

Sources

» Haaretz – 25 February 2016:
Israel’s Nationalistic ‘Loyalty in Culture’ Bill Passes Legal Test

» Forward – 25 February 2016:
Israel: Justice Ministry green lights ‘Loyalty’ Test for Arts Funding

» Times of Israel – 24 February 2016:
Justice Ministry OKs conditioning arts funding on ‘loyalty’

» Artsy – 19 February 2016:
Israel’s Brewing Culture War, Explained

» The Mossawa Center – 12 February 2016:
Knesset Rejects Bill for Proportional Funding to Arab Culture Institutions

» Adafah – 29 January 2016:
Knesset’s Education Committee must reject Culture Minister’s bill requiring cultural centers and artists to declare loyalty to the state

» Artsfreedom – 28 January 2016:
Israel: Culture minister proposes ‘loyalty bill’ for arts funding



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