TEL AVIV Israel's culture minister had a blunt message on Sunday for liberals worried about what they consider efforts by the government to stifle dissent in the arts: "Cut the bullshit."
Free-speech debate in Israel has grown fierce under conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Non-governmental organizations and artists that document or dramatize conditions for Palestinians complain about legislation scrutinizing their funding.
Culture Minister Miri Regev, a former army spokeswoman and censor who is among the rising stars of Netanyahu's Likud party, has been a focus of criticism. Appearing at an arts and culture conference hosted by the liberal newspaper Haaretz, she was greeted by protesters who booed or stood with mouths gagged.
"I was always told to start a speech with a quote. It makes for a cultured impression. So here goes," she said, taking the podium. "As the famed Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once put it," she continued, switching to English: "Cut the bullshit! Cut the bullshit!"
Voice raised, Regev said that the event's title, "Culture Demands Independence", "insults the thinking person's newspaper. As if anyone's threatening your artistic freedom of expression!"
The Netanyahu government says it aims to ensure that public funds promote arts that benefit the majority of citizens and shore up national unity, in the face of censure from left-wing Israelis and world powers at the growth of Jewish settlements on occupied West Bank land where the Palestinians seek a state.
With hecklers drowning out parts of her speech, Regev retorted from the stage: "Someone should be preserving my freedom of expression here."
(Writing by Dan Williams, editing by Larry King)