Israel’s Culture Minister Threatens to Cut Funding for Artists Who Defame Country

Israeli Film Fund Loyality Oath
Edel Rodriguez for Variety

The Israeli government is under no obligation to fund cultural projects that defame the country, the nation’s hardline new culture minister declared this week in a speech that has raised the hackles of left-wing artists and kickstarted a tense debate about the nature of democracy and free speech today in the Jewish State.

Miri Regev, a right-wing lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told members of Israel’s parliament on Sunday that she will not hesitate to cut state funding for organizations or artists who encourage boycotts of Israel or promote behavior that she feels delegitimizes the nation.

In her defiant speech, which came just days after she threatened to defund a joint Arab-Jewish children’s theater over its director’s refusal to hold performances in the occupied West Bank, she told the lawmakers, “Whoever wants to defame Israel can do it alone. We won’t block it, but we won’t fund it.”

Her remarks were the latest in a spree of threats directed at left-wing creatives in Israel; last week she told a gathering of artists, “The government doesn’t have to support culture, I can decide where the money goes, the artists will not dictate to me.”

In response to her remarks, several hundred artists and filmmakers held an emergency meeting to discuss the threat of censorship and signed a petition that declared, “We hope with all our hearts that Israel will not deteriorate into a country where artists who express their views are blacklisted.”

But left-wing lawmakers also waded into the fray this week, calling for a film that takes a sympathetic look at the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to be pulled from the lineup of the upcoming Jerusalem Film Festival.

The documentary “Beyond the Fear,” a Latvian-Israeli co-production, chronicles the relationship of Yigal Amir, a religious Jew who murdered Rabin in 1995, with Larissa Trimbobler, a woman he met and later married while in prison. Some of Israel’s most prominent liberal voices, including former President Shimon Peres and Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rothman, have spoken out against the film, and Regev pledged to reconsider state funding to the Jerusalem Film Festival if they do not oblige.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Jerusalem Film Festival issued a statement in response to the uproar, acknowledging the controversy surrounding the film’s screening but stating that they had decided to nevertheless continue to keep it in competition. Due to “a deep desire to acknowledge the feelings of the public,” however, fest administrators said the film would be screened not during the festival week, but on a separate date.

“The Jerusalem Film Festival is not a political body … our role is to provide a platform for the best and most interesting films of the year,” the statement read. “Censorship of films on the subject in which they are engaged is not part of our job.”

Last year, Israeli Arab filmmaker Suha Arraf was ordered to return half a million dollars in public funding after she declared her directorial debut “Villa Touma” a product of Palestine rather than Israel. The brouhaha set off a firestorm of controversy among artists and lawmakers here over the definition of an Israeli filmmaker and the obligation of Israel to provide taxpayer funds to projects that call its existence into question.

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  1. Tom Brennan says:

    Israel are in danger of completely isolating themselves both in the international and artistic communities – in trying to suppress expression, creativity or satire.Who are the only governments or countries that suppress artists in this way? Certainly not those of normal functioning democracies.

  2. JoAnn Perez says:

    Israel is progressively putting themselves in a corner, internationally speaking, not just by interfering in the rights of indigenous people but interfering with the rights of their own people. Alarming. No wonder there are artists from around the world that are boycotting them.

  3. Rula B. says:

    Democracy in Israel as we have never experienced democracy before. It is the end of a charade, and a delve into the world of ethnocracy and compliance.

  4. Yes the message is clear – funding from the state is predicated upon conformity. A state which doesn’t see dissent as an essential part of democratic rule isn’t a democracy at all.

  5. Tim McGinty says:

    They are trying to shut down criticism wherever they find it. It’s only to be expected when facing a worldwide campaign aimed at implementing justice and international law: the stage of denial, of repression and clinging to the false, nearly magical belief that if Israel will just explain its position better and invest the appropriate resources, everything will be fine. In other words, Israel continues to think that the world is dumb (and Israel is smart).

  6. Beverley Krell says:

    I read this earlier in the NYT and the Guardian UK. For Israel to take this action would confirm its lack of democracy and a further step towards totalitarianism.

    • Michael Fine says:

      The Arabs know that they would have to compromise their positions on Jerusalem and “right of return” if they were to negotiate seriously with the Israelis. That is why they have reached out to useful idiots such as the BDS supporters and UN anti-Israel bashers and uninformed citizenry such as yourself Tim to do their dirty work for them. BTW the 1949 Armistice line (67 borders) was never intended as permanent recognized international borders so this crap about international law is just that – crap. The Arabs are trying an end run around the legitimate negotiating process and your helping them

      • Helen says:

        Funny that, Israel loves the Law when it works in it’s favour. And you align yourself perfectly with the Right Wingers when you call Intenational Law ‘crap’.

  7. Michael Fine says:

    I agree with the Minister. Israelis should not be forced to fund their own destruction.

    • Manny Oyvay says:

      Yes, exactly. Oikophobia & ethnomasochism demands that you become an accomplice to the destruction of your own culture. Just look at the media here in America, they promote pathological altruism all of the time.

  8. Manny Oyvay says:

    Did you ever think you’d see the day when Jews hating other Jews in Israel would be trendy and hip?
    Must be about time for the polar shift.

  9. Frederick Tyler says:

    This is all about the universal expectation by a grantor that its objectives or mission will be furthered by its grantees.

  10. Coach L. says:

    Well I guess Obama won’t be making any movies in Israel anytime soon.

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