Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Public Support Waning for Israel’s Controversial Minister of Culture and Sports

Minister of Culture Miri Regev Israel
Miri Regev, Photo Yonatan Sindel

The Israeli public is losing patience with the firebrand Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev. Hardly a day goes by without Regev’s comments making headlines. While some admire what they see as patriotic zeal, others despise what they regard as her ‘vulgar behaviour and xenophobic views‘. Either way, she leaves few Israelis indifferent.

Raised in the Jewish settlementKiryat Gat, Regev (1965) comes from humble beginnings and has repeatedly reminded her constituents of how in tune she is with the concerns of the working class. She served in the military for 25 years, rising to the rank of brigadier general, a rarity for a woman. As the chief military spokeswoman during the second Lebanese war in 2006, she provided the daily televised briefings. This role first brought her to national attention and made her a minor celebrity, despite her less than articulate performance. She holds an undergraduate degree in informal education and a master’s degree in business administration. She is married with three children.

She has enjoyed rapid political success, being elected to the Knesset in 2009 for the Likud party and becoming minister of culture and sports in 2015. From the start, her controversial remarks have sharply divided public opinion. She has threatened to cut state funding to several cultural institutions that ‘delegitimize’ the state, raising doubts about her ability to tolerate freedom of expression or opinions which differ from her party line. She regularly denigrates Ashkenazi Jews, the country’s historical elite (she is a Mizrahi or Oriental Jew, in contrast to the Ashkenazi, who have their roots in Europe). Styling herself as something of a Robin Hood for the disenfranchised, she has consistently argued that her actions are motivated by social justice.

“The cake has to be more equitably divided,” she has said of her attempts to divert funds away from the traditionally Ashkenazi-led cultural institutions in Tel Aviv to little known artists on the social and geographical periphery. “Why shouldn’t we have more Mizrahi music on the radio? This society is made up of immigrants from west and east – and it’s about time that was expressed in our culture.” However, she does not consider Israel’s “disloyal” Arab population and cultural programs as eligible for these funds.

Indeed, she has encouraged anti-Arab sentiment and mounted verbal attacks against her Arab peers in the Knesset. She is apparently immune to the criticism levelled at her and continues to maintain a high media profile. Yet her latest outburst proved a step too far, even for her members of own party. The incident involved the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which is to be established in the near future and will replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Regev claimed that the PBC should be controlled by the government since the government is financing it. “We are creating another branch of the leftist elite…..,” she shouted during a heated debate at a cabinet meeting earlier this month. “If we have no control, why should we give it money?” she continued. She would also like to control the corporation’s appointments and management.

Her peers were quick to respond. Minister for Social Equality, and fellow Likud member, Gila Gamliel said that some of her remarks were “bordering on fascism”. Other critics claimed that Regev was forgetting the role of democracy, which is to criticize the government when need be. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice tried to intervene in the debate, since he also has an interest in restraining the media in Israel’s current political environment. Regev claims she is the protector of social justice and cultural equality. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that her methods are eroding her public support.

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