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Israel’s culture minister to get new anti-free speech powers

Israeli Cultural Minister Miri Regev [Miri Regev/Facebook]

Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon are pushing a legal amendment to give the culture minister authority to retroactively suspend funding for cultural activities that “contravene the principles of the state”, reported Haaretz.

The amendment to the Culture and Art Law would then give the culture minister powers similar to the authority already granted to the finance minister.

According to Haaretz, “the bill would allow the Culture Ministry to reduce the budget of these institutions or deny it entirely because of any activity that contradicts one of five areas”:

  • denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
  • Incitement to racism, violence and terrorism;
  • Supporting an armed struggle or an act of terrorism, an enemy state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel;
  • Marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning;
  • An act of vandalism or desecration that violates the honor of the flag of the state or its emblem.

Haaretz explains that “the procedure is similar to those currently enshrined in the Nakba Law and the Boycott Law”, which give the Finance Ministry the power “to cut state funding to any institution that publicly observes Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning or impose financial penalties on a person or company that calls for a boycott of Israel or the settlements”.

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In a joint statement issued by Regev and Kahlon, the ministers said that they decided to promote the new law “after it became clear that the tools provided by the Budget Law do not allow proper and proportional treatment of this phenomenon and that the existing law cannot be enforced”.

“There is artistic freedom in Israel but not the freedom to exploit public funds in order to harm the values and symbols of the state”, the ministers said. “The purpose of the law is to provide tools to the authorized bodies in order to prevent harm to the basic values of the state. Freedom of expression is a worthy and important value but democracy has the right to defend itself”.

The ministers continued: “In Israel there are artists who have gained international renown and bring honour to the state and pride for all of us, but there is also a small and extreme group that does not miss an opportunity to incite against the State of Israel and the IDF [Israeli military]”.

Haaretz reported that Kahlon had previously opposed this amendment and “attempted to block Regev’s efforts to receive powers similar to those of his ministry”. The new bill is expected to submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for approval in October.

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