Anyone who uses Holocaust imagery or Nazi epithets in public may soon face a NIS 100,000 fine and up to six months in jail, following the approval of a bill by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday.

The bill will be brought to the Knesset on Wednesday for its preliminary hearing.

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The proposal, by MK Uri Ariel (National Union), comes following a demonstration in Jerusalem last month by ultra-Orthodox groups, in which protesters dressed up in concentration camp uniforms and wore yellow Stars of David on their clothing bearing the word “Jude,” to protest against what they saw as incitement against the haredi community.

The incident sparked national outrage and condemnation from many quarters.

“I am pleased that the government is supporting this important law,” Ariel said in response to the bill’s approval.

“Unfortunately we have been witness in recent years to the cynical exploitation of Nazi symbols and phraseology, which is offensive to Holocaust survivors, their families, and many others among the Jewish people.

“The law constitutes an appropriate warning, and will anchor in law, a fitting punishment for the despicable use [of such imagery],” he continued.

Ariel also pointed out that his bill does not differentiate between rioters in Bil’in, “price-tag” attackers or the ultra-Orthodox that “cynically and inappropriately” use Nazi imagery.

However, the bill has come under fire from civil rights groups and Holocaust educational institutes.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel strongly criticized the bill, calling it an attempt to forcibly control public discourse through criminal prohibitions and threats of imprisonment.

“Freedom of expression is the right to say harsh, piercing and even offensive words,” the organization said in a statement released on Sunday.

“It is the right to express crass and extreme attitudes, feelings and thoughts, and also includes the right to make use of harsh rhetoric and provocative imagery.

“The question of the social legitimacy of the use of Holocaust symbols in public and political discourse is a big question, fitting for free debate in the ‘market-place of ideas.’ It is not a question that should be dealt with through the means of criminal law.”

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Israel, also expressed opposition to the bill and said he was not supportive of such a law at this stage.

“Would Uri Ariel be willing to incarcerate those who protested against the disengagement from Gaza by wearing Stars of David?” he asked, referring to the use of such badges in 2005 by anti-disengagement activists.

“Laws like this only reflect the weakness of civil society and an inability to behave in an appropriate way,” Zuroff continued, adding that it would mean that Israeli citizens are unable to refrain themselves from misusing Holocaust imagery.

“As infuriated as I was with the use of Holocaust imagery in the recent demonstration, it would be a terrible reflection on Israeli society if we have to legislate against it,” he said.

Activists protesting a number of causes have turned of late to Nazi slurs and symbols to raise the stakes on their issues, and catch the public eye.

Two men were recently arrested, for example, after a picture was published on a haredi website in which the face of Jerusalem District Police commander Nisso Shaham was edited onto a picture of Adolf Hitler.

And late last year, when right-wing activists stormed an IDF base in the West Bank, one vandal called deputy brigade commander Harpaz Zur, whose grandmother survived the Holocaust, a “Nazi.”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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