Israeli Culture Ministry Makes a Push to Legitimize Settlements

Logan Bayroff
on June 17, 2016

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Israel’s Minister of Culture is making no secret of her government’s desire to give support and legitimacy to settlements in the West Bank.

According to a new Haaretz report, Miri Regev’s Culture and Sports ministry has distributed a new form to Israeli cultural institutions, requiring them to state whether they had held performances last year in the West Bank settlements, the Negev or the Galillee. While institutions that held no performances in these areas could suffer a 33 percent cut in their government funding, those who perform in the settlements will reportedly earn a 10 percent funding bonus.

This push to encourage and reward performances in the settlements is consistent with the aggressive approach Regev has taken against those who disagree with the occupation or with the government’s hardline nationalist ideology. In January she sought to pass a “cultural loyalty law” that would allow her to cut public funding to institutions that attacked “Israeli symbols” or recognized the Palestinian nakba. In February, she had a heated exchange with a room full of artists at the Haaretz conference, proclaiming that “We will ensure loyalty to parts of the country and forbid boycotts…Categorically, freedom of expression is important for democracy but the right to security overrides freedom of expression.”

Some Israeli artists and writers have made clear in the past their choice not to perform or lecture in prominent West Bank settlements. They include some of Israel’s most celebrated writers – like Amos Oz, David Grossman, AB Yehoshua, and Sami Michael, who wrote in a public letter in 2010 that “Legitimizing the settlement enterprise and coming to terms with it severely harm Israel’s chances of reaching a peace agreement with its Palestinian neighbors.”

Regev is making clear that her government has no tolerance for that stance – and that artists who refuse to treat the settlements like any other part of Israel could suffer consequences. And in offering a special funding bonus to those who perform in the settlements, she is also furthering the practice of giving preferential treatment to the settlements at the expense of much needier communities elsewhere on Israel’s periphery. As noted on the J Street Blog in April, a study has shown that “In 2015 settlement residents got a total of 570.1 million shekels, reflecting higher per capita funding than the average anywhere else in the country….Settlement residents also get 500 shekels more per capita than residents of the Negev, and 900 shekels more than residents of the north, even though those are defined as national priority areas.”

Israeli opposition leaders like MK Stav Shaffir have denounced this special treatment. But as long as the current government remains in office, we’re likely to continue to see rewards for the settlements and those who support them – and penalties for those believe that the settlement movement is undermining Israel’s future. While in the past it may have been understood and accepted that Israelis could legitimately disagree about the legitimacy of the settlements, this government is increasingly forcing people to choose: If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Logan Bayroff is a Senior Communications Associate at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @Bayroff