On December 4th the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman returned to that theme with a report (another version of which was also promoted by Bateman on Twitter) aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]
Shah: “Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev is taking on the Israeli arts world, accusing some of pursuing anti-Israel narratives in state funded works or even of glorifying terrorism. So what happens when the state takes on the often subversive world of art? The story recently reached its [unintelligible] over the fate of the government bill that would see such productions defunded. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”
Failing to correctly pronounce the name of the theatre at which he recorded the piano music listeners heard at the beginning of his report, Bateman began:
Bateman: “Soothing tones in Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theatre but they barely muffle the battle cries close by. This stage is on the front line in Israel’s culture wars – or as some here would have it, the war on culture waged by the government. The target of opprobrium for the actors is Miri Regev; Israel’s combative culture minister.”
Following a recording of an excerpt from a play, Bateman went on to refer to “Israel’s so-called cultural loyalty bill”, asserting that:
Bateman: “The planned law has been a flagship for the former military censor turned minister of culture, Miri Regev.”
Bateman: “This scrap between politicians and performers has tugged at old tensions in Israel over free expression against the demands of national security, over the nationalism of the right versus claims of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority – all in a bill that would allow the culture minister to strip public funds from works seen as inciting violence or insulting the symbols of the state.”
So is Bateman’s portrayal of the bill accurate? At no point in this report did he bother to tell BBC audiences that the bill is actually a proposed amendment to existing legislation – the Culture and Arts Law of 2002.
The proposal is an addition to that law which would allow the minister of culture and sport to reduce or cut state funding to a body which engaged in any of five activities which are already defined in an existing law passed in 1985 when the prime minister of Israel was (the hardly ‘right-wing’) Shimon Peres.
Clause 3b of the Budget Principles Law already allows the minister of finance (after consultation with the appropriate minister, legal advisors and after hearing the relevant body) to reduce or cut state funding to bodies which act “against the state’s principles”. The actions which would justify such a decision include negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting racism, violence and terror, supporting armed conflict or terror acts against the State of Israel by an enemy country or a terrorist organisation, presenting Israel’s Independence Day or day of founding as a day of mourning and acts of vandalism or physical debasement which harm the honour of the country’s flag or state symbols.
The bill proposed by Minister Regev states that any cultural body has the right to choose to engage in any of the above activities – i.e. freedom of expression – but that the minister of culture and sport would have the authority to decide that the state would not fund such activity.
Tom Bateman, however, continued his tale of supposed cultural censorship.
Bateman: “A play at the Tmuna Theatre has been in the culture minister’s sights. She demanded it pull the production about the Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour who was jailed earlier this year for inciting violence and supporting a terrorist organisation. Tatour’s defence team said at the time her trial amounted to the criminalisation of poetry. The play’s writer, Einat Weitzman, accuses the minister of curbing the artistic freedom to portray a complex national history.”
After listeners have heard from Weitzman, Bateman continues with his caricature of the proposed bill.
Bateman: “But why, asks the culture minister, should arts elites and the left-wing get public money for siding with what she sees as an anti-Israel narrative? Self-flagellation she calls it.”
While Bateman did not include any response from the culture minister herself or her office in this report, he did – like his Middle East editor before him – go to the trouble of interviewing a junior MK with no direct connection to the story – Oren Hazan – before presenting a his version of a story from 2016.
Bateman: “Artists have protested, finding ever more curious ways to satirise the culture minister’s dislike of funding anything that insults the symbols of the state. A performer called Ariel Bronz took to the stage after Miri Regev gave a speech two years ago and bared his backside, into which he inserted an Israeli flag.”
The account given by the Ha’aretz newspaper – which organised that event – is somewhat different.
“At the beginning of the conference, which was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Bronz performed a selection from his show “Love the Juice,” which is being staged at the Klipa Theater and shows the “upheaval” his alter ego undergoes – from an enthusiastic left-wing activist to proud Zionist who decides to act to bring Jews to Israel.
The scene, during which Bronz stripped and was left wearing only a short pink skirt, aroused fury among some guests who started booing him. At one point, he pelted them with oranges that he had squeezed as part of the act. Chaos erupted and there were calls to remove him from the stage. Later, he was asked to conclude the scene but he claimed the amount of time allotted to him was not over and insisted on remaining onstage.
Bronz then began waving a small flag and, according to him, then spontaneously inserted it into his backside in front of the audience. In the end, security guards came and ushered him from the stage.”
Only at the end of his almost five-minute-long report did Bateman (using typically contorted metaphors) bother to mention that the proposed bill which is the subject of his report is actually no longer news.
Bateman: “The bill though has been sinking amid the waves of political crisis crashing around Israel’s coalition government. At a heated press conference last week Miri Regev accused fellow ministers prepared to derail it of giving state cash to what she called terrorists and Jew-haters. She postponed a vote on the bill and its future is now uncertain. Loyalty, it seemed, was not forthcoming from some fellow ministers – let alone from the rebellious world of art.”
The postponement of voting on the bill took place on November 26th. Nevertheless, nine days later the BBC found it appropriate to promote a tale of a “war on culture”, “nationalism of the right” and “curbing artistic freedom” while airbrushing many of the details necessary for audience understanding of the complete story.