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Statue mocks Israeli minister pushing 'loyalty in culture' law

Itay Zalait's statue of Miri Regev protests the minister's "Loyalty in Culture" bill [AP]

Date of publication: 8 November, 2018

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Miri Regev's proposal to cut subsidies to cultural organisations deemed not "loyal" to the state suppresses criticism in the arts, opponents say.

A statue of controversial Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev was erected secretly in Tel Aviv on Thursday in an apparent protest against a "loyalty in culture" bill opponents say will restrict artistic freedom.

The larger-than-life statue of Regev in a short-sleeved flowing white dress appeared in the square outside Israel's national theatre, Habimah, with a small sign nearby reading #InTheHeartOfTheNation.

The sculpture faced into a huge mirror in what many saw as a reference to the magic looking-glass in the Snow White story.

The work, by Israeli artist Itay Zalait, drew the attention of the press and passers-by who came to get a glimpse before its inevitable removal, as it had been set up without a permit.

The outspoken Regev has drawn the ire of Israel's cultural establishment with a long series of statements and acts.

Most recently she promoted a bill that tied public funding to cultural organisations to "loyalty" shown to the state.

Read more: Israel's 'Loyalty in Culture' bill bolsters hard-right demonisation of artist

Zalait was circumspect on the statue's meaning, even suggesting that rather than a critique of Regev, its name - "in the heart of the nation" - could represent the public "consensus" around her.

"Others saw it as a reference to her famous saying that the Sudanese are a cancer in the heart of the nation, which represents the discourse we've been exposed to for a few years," he told AFP.

Israel's right-wing government has been seeking to expel Sudanese and Eritrean migrants who have arrived in the country illegally.

Hani, an art teacher from Tel Aviv, brought her class to see the work as a protest over Regev's "loyalty" legislation - "something we can't accept since we think that art is art, and art needs freedom".

Last week, around 1,000 people, many of them cultural luminaries, protested outside the Tel Aviv cinemateque, against the "Loyalty in Culture" bill.

The bill empowers the ministry of culture to withhold state funding to productions and institutions that negate the existence of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state.

Regev herself thanked Zalait and praised the work for "posing the mirror to the world of Israeli culture", which she accused of being elitist and excluding different voices.

"The values of cultural justice are my take on the Snow White story and the timeless question: mirror mirror on the wall, what are the worst wrongdoings of them all?" 

In 2016, Zalait unveiled a golden statue of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to mock the idolatry of many Israelis toward him.

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