Vote on controversial Israeli ‘loyalty in culture’ law likely to be postponed


A vote on the ‘loyalty in culture’ bill, a controversial law that would allow cuts to government funding for institutions not showing ‘loyalty’ to the state, is likely to be postponed. Members of the Israeli parliament were supposed to vote on the second and third reading, effectively making a legislative decision on the projected law, on Monday.

However, the ruling coalition is on shaky ground following the latest bout of violence in Gaza, which led to the resignation of former Defense Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman. With a narrow majority of one seat, the government has now found it increasingly hard to get support in the legislature.

On Monday morning, Liberman, who has previously supported the bill, had not yet declared Yisrael Beiteinu’s voting intentions. Israeli news channel Arutz Sheva reported that the Yisrael Beiteinu leadership demanded legislative proposals on harsher sentences, including the death penalty, for convicted terrorists pass their current stage in the Knesset before they agree to support the ‘loyalty in culture’ law. This would likely result in a stalemate.

Meanwhile, finance minister Moshe Kahlon announced yesterday that parliamentarians in his major coalition partner Kulanu, a centre-right party, would be allowed to vote as they see fit.

They might decide to join the opposition and vote against the law. “We will not stop fighting until the law is completely erased,” said left-wing Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg. “The sigh of relief by some of our friends from Kulanu, who were rescued tonight from another stain on their voting record, could be heard all over the country,” she added.

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The bill would give the finance and culture ministers the power to slash subsidies to any institution presenting work that denies Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state, or over work that attacks the state symbols, including its flag and the army.

The definition of these terms is vague, effectively leaving the executive with a lot of decision power.

Previously, the ability to cut government funding to cultural institutions based on loyalty was a power vested solely to the finance minister, although the power has never been exercised.

Artists in Israel have attempted to protest the law in creative ways. Earlier this month, a larger-than-life statue of Likud MK and culture minister Miri Regev, who tabled the bill, was unveiled in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. A video clip released last week by the Israeli Democracy Institute showed what would happen to beloved classics of Israeli cinema and theatre, if the word of the law would be followed.

On Sunday night, at a highly symbolic event, artists were invited to come and burn their works of art in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Ha-Medina “to sacrifice them as victims of the loyalty law”, as reported by Haaretz.

In a speech before the event, illustrator and organizer Zeev Engelmayer said “This law will lead to art in the service of the government. We are at the start of a slippery slope that will lead us to disaster”.

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“If we don’t start to fight the situation now, it will be too late. Art cannot exist without an independent agenda. The moment someone dictates to you, it is no longer art, but propaganda”, Engelmeyer added, before burning an effigy of his cartoon character Shoshke.

But despite the shocking imagery in a country that defines itself as a beacon for democracy in the Middle-East, the likelihood of such protests having an impact on lawmakers is low.

MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP)

Miri Regev is a former IDF spokesperson, who entered the Knesset in 2009 as a Likud MK and who has been culture and sport minister since 2015. She is unashamedly vocal in her criticism of the Tel Aviv elite, which she has qualified as “tight-assed” and “ungrateful”. As well as loyalty from cultural institutions, she’s asking them to make financial sacrifices that will divert funds from traditional institutions to the periphery, including to Israeli communities in the West Bank.

Regev’s adversorial brand of nationalism has made her a controversial character in Israeli politics. She is known for making incendiary statements of her own, calling African migrants to Israel a “cancer in our body” and calling Arab Israeli lawmakers “traitors”. Her firebrand politics do not alienate the electorate, and 59 percent of Israeli Jews support her agenda, according to an Israel Democracy Institute poll quoted in the New York Times.

Culture Minister Miri Regev will give a press conference at the Knesset on Monday at 1:00 pm, Israel time.

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