March 8, 2016
Culture minister for Israel’s majority party denounces book-pricing law
by Liam O’Brien
Well, it was fun(?) while it lasted. Israel’s controversial “Law for the Protection of Literature and Authors in Israel” (aka “Book Law”) which barred booksellers from discounting frontlist titles for 18 months after publication, has been disavowed by the new culture minister for Likud, Israel’s conservative majority party. Gili Izikovich and Yair Ashkenazi reported for Haaretz:
Just one hour after Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev announced that she intended to abolish a law designed to prevent cut-rate discounts on newly published books, she published an initial formulation of a bill to do so.
Speaking at the Haaretz Culture Conference Sunday, Regev said: “The idea of a public [literature] authority is dangerous and reveals an idea to privatize culture. I will not allow this. In the name of this principle I have decided to annul the Book Law.”
At the last Hebrew Book Week in June 2015, Regev announced the appointment of a committee to examine the law. The committee has not yet completed its work and is to submit its recommendations in about a month. However, according to a source close to the committee, its conclusions are opposed to those expressed by Regev at Sunday’s conference.
Regev’s appearance at the conference was marked by not a small amount of controversy. The minister has recently faced criticism from liberals over her proposed “loyalty in culture” bill, which would cut federal funding to any groups that disrespect Israel’s state symbols or flag. “Disloyal art” is defined as:
Denying the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism, violence and terror; support for an armed struggle or terror act by a hostile country or terror organisation against the state of Israel; marking Independence Day as a day of mourning; an act of vandalism or physical degradation that dishonours the country’s flag or state emblem.
In response to this, Regev opened her remarks thusly: “I’ve been told always to start with a quote because that makes a cultural impression, so here you are: As the famed Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once said: ‘Cut the bullshit!’”
So on what does Regev base her opposition to the book pricing law? In summer 2015 when Regev formed the committee to reexamine the law, she pointed out that ending the bookselling duopsony, ruled by bookstore chains Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim, was still her objective. And while the rollout wasn’t a disaster, with bookstore profits staying fairly steady despite sales numbers dropping, Regev’s self-assured position at the helm of the new Israeli culture wars demands she provide a small-government hot take on the law.
It remains to be seen if this will run at odds to the findings of her committee, but judging from previous behavior, it won’t quell Regev’s resolve.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.