Bill demanding loyalty to state in arts passes first Knesset reading

The Cultural Loyalty Bill, which allows the freezing of funding for art promoting an anti-Israel narrative, passed its first legal hurdle at the Knesset. 

By Jack Gold, World Israel News

The Knesset plenum on Monday night approved in its first reading the Cultural Loyalty Bill, which would allow the government to pull funding from organizations or events featuring content deemed harmful to the State of Israel.

The new bill is in fact an amendment to the Culture and Art Law, according to which the minister could withhold public funding to organizations “working against the principles of the state.”

The transgressions deserving of defunding include: denial that the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement to racism, violence or terrorism; support for the armed struggle or acts of terrorism 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.

A majority of 55 Members of Knesset voted in favor of the bill; 44 objected.

The bill has been transferred to the Education, Culture and Sports Committee for further debate.

“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,” Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who initiated the legislation, stated.

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“There is no harm here to freedom of speech and art. There is no intention to silence people or stifle criticism,” she continued. “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.”

The opposition responded with raucous calls, to which she responded: “What do you want? They will burn a flag and I will fund it?”

Opposition: ‘A culture of rhinos’

Detractors said that the bill stifles cultural creativity.

“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,” MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) charged.

Regev, “wants to create fear and terror,” Shai argued, adding that Israel “won’t be the same after this law.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that “culture does not exist if the government oversees it. Instead of culture, we will receive propaganda. Artists today know that they are expected to be submissive.”

The Knesset experienced an embarrassing moment when lawmakers had an unprofessional exchange of words over the issue. MK Ilan Gilon of the far-left Mertz party called MK Oren Hazan (Likud) a fool, and he retorted by calling Gilon, who is wheelchair bound, “half a human  being.”

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“The recent statements heard in the Knesset are inappropriate and have no place in the Israeli discourse. I am in favor of vehement and sometimes even sarcastic arguments, as long as they transact with respect and relate to the matter at hand and not to a person’s body. I am against offensive or chauvinist discourse that does not respect the Knesset and us as public emissaries.”