Bill to cut funding for 'anti-Israel' performances clears first Knesset hurdle

Culture Minister Miri Regev would have the power to withdraw funding, but critics say it is equivalent to censorship


A law that grants Israel’s Culture Minister the power to cut funding from groups that host performances deemed “anti-Israel” has cleared its first Knesset hurdle.

The so-called “culture loyalty” bill passed on Monday after a stormy debate that ended with a 55-44 vote in favour.

It was proposed by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who would assume the power to decide if an event questions Israel’s Jewish or democratic identity, desecrates the state’s symbols, commemorates Independence Day as a day of mourning, or incites terror, racism or violence.

If the minister deems the criteria have been met, funding can be withdrawn.

But the bill has been broadly criticised by the opposition as well as artists and actors’ organisations for gifting powers of “censorship” over the creative community in Israel.

But supporters contended that it is not censorship to deny state funding, because the artists will still have freedom of speech.

Mrs Regev said during the Knesset debate that “the law redefines the boundaries of permitted and forbidden, suitable and deplorable in our cultural institutes which are funded by the public. Yes to freedom of speech, yes to criticism, to damning criticism. No to incitement against the state of Israel being funded by the public.”

Coalition’s parties were all whipped into voting for the bill, but some of its MKs predicted it would be emasculated in committee before a final vote.

The bill is one of several highly controversial proposals which are now being pushed by coalition parties that are unlikely to make it into law amid speculation that an election could be called imminently.

They include an amendment to the election law that would limit the president to picking only party leaders when nominating a new prime minister after an election.

It is being pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is anxious to prevent his old Likud rival President Reuben Rivlin from circumventing him after the election, even though such fears considered baseless.

Separately, Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman is pushing legislation which will make it easier for military courts to pass a death sentence for murder against terrorists.

The bill is widely seen as an empty gesture, since military prosecutors can already demand the death sentence in theory, but never do so in practice.

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