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Infighting roiled the 61-seat coalition, leading Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s flagship bill to be removed from Monday’s Knesset agenda.
“A coalition that can’t pass an important bill like this won’t be able to pass anything,” Regev warned, saying that those who led to the bill’s downfall are bolstering terrorism.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced that he would give Kulanu MKs the freedom to vote according to their conscience, effectively dooming Regev’s bill to being voted down. As a result, coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud) pulled the bill.
The “cultural loyalty bill,” which was scheduled to be put to a final vote on Monday, allows the Culture Ministry to deny funding to cultural works that disrespect state symbols, consider Independence Day to be a day of mourning, or incite to violence or terrorism, among other things.
While the bill does not ban these works, it removes state funding from them. Regev has defended the bill by saying there is a right to freedom of expression, but not a right to be funded. However, many cultural institutions rely upon state funding, and artists and intellectuals have criticized the bill as a form of censorship.
Kahlon revoked coalition discipline after MKs Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) and Bennie Begin (Likud) said they would not vote in favor of the bill, which called its viability into question.
Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman, who pulled his party from the government two weeks ago, officially withdrew his support from the bill and any others. He conditioned his support for coalition bills in exchange for passing his proposal to allow military courts ease in giving terrorists the death sentence.
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“We will support any bill that has an ideological background that matches Yisrael Beytenu’s stances,” Liberman said. “Our problem is that they came to Yisrael Beytenu with a deal that would include the ‘Gideon Sa’ar bill’… This is not connected to any ideology… All the other bills will be sacrificed for a bill that is personal.”
The Sa’ar bill is one Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been promoting that would require the president to choose a party leader to be prime minister. The law currently allows the president to appoint any MK. The idea emerged after Netanyahu became convinced that Sa’ar, a former senior Likud minister, was conspiring with President Reuven Rivlin to become the next prime minister, something they both deny.
Regev held a press conference in which she excoriated Kahlon and Liberman for bringing about her bill’s apparent demise.
“For years, I have heard from dozens of bereaved families who can no longer tolerate the theater of the absurd” of the state paying for cultural works “that undermine the state… [and] see its establishment as the disaster of the Palestinian people,” Regev said.
Liberman, Regev said, “is now voting with [Meretz chairwoman] Tamar Zandberg and [Joint List MK] Ahmed Tibi. He’s voting to support terrorism. How can this be?”
As for Kahlon, Regev said his decision to give his MKs freedom to vote as they wish in a coalition with a one-seat majority shows that he wants to topple the government.
“Don’t let Kahlon’s smiling, friendly look fool you!” she warned. “Thanks to Kahlon and Liberman, the culture minister will continue to give money to terror supporters. I’m sorry that I couldn’t fix it,” she added.
Ortal Tamam, a niece of Moshe Tamam, an IDF soldier who was kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians in 1984, was a major impetus behind the bill. She spoke at Regev’s press conference about the feeling of betrayal when her uncle’s murderer, Walid Daka, was found the subject of an adulatory play at Al-Maidan, a Haifa theater that receives government funding.
“This isn’t a matter of Right or Left. This bill isn’t political…. My uncle was murdered serving his country and now the state is paying to produce his murderer’s play,” Tamam said. “Who thinks this makes sense?”
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