Draconian ‘Naqba’ bill approved for first reading

Panel to moderate text before final vote on legislation that aims to impose harsh fines on organizations using state funds to 'mourn’ Independence Day.

February 24, 2010 01:13
3 minute read.
Israeli security forces clash with locals in Shuaf

shuafat riots goats 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Consultations between MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) and the Justice Ministry have yielded a far more draconian “Naqba” bill than the one which the Knesset plenum approved in preliminary reading, it emerged Tuesday during a Knesset Law Committee meeting.

The committee met to approve the draft of the bill for first reading after Miller, who initiated the legislation, met with Justice Ministry officials to hammer out a mutually acceptable proposal.

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But committee chairman, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), made it clear that the proposal would be moderated after being approved by the Knesset plenum and sent back to the committee to prepare it for its final readings.

The bill forbids government-funded or government-supported organizations from spending money on activities that, among other things, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.

Any such organization which is found to have spent money on “Naqba” commemorations or other activities specified in the bill can have as much as 10 times the amount of money that it spent deducted from its budget, according to the draft which is to be presented to the Knesset plenum.

Originally, Miller proposed a much harsher bill which determined that any “Naqba” commemoration declaring that Israel’s victory in the1948 War of Independence and the establishment of the state was a catastrophe constituted a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

The bill was originally approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. However, a strong public outcry convinced Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to demand far-reaching changes in the legislation.

Miller proposed a new bill on July 7, 2009 which entirely eliminated the possibility of a prison sentence, did not render it illegal to mark the “Naqba” on Independence Day, but ordered the state to financially penalize organizations that did so using state funding. The new bill did not stipulate how large the penalty should be.

According to the current draft of the bill, any state-financed or state-supported organization will be financially penalized it if conducts an activity that:

• denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, or
• commemorates Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning, or
• supports armed struggle or an act of terrorism against the state of Israel, or
• incites to racism, violence or terrorism, or
• causes injury to the honor of the flag or the symbol of the state by an act that causes humiliation or physical damage.

The bill authorizes the Finance Minister to deduct from the budget of any organization that commits any of the above acts in consultation with the minister responsible for the organization and upon the recommendation of a committee of civil servants who examine the activity. The minister must grant a hearing to the suspected organization before taking measures.

Haneen Zoabi (Balad) charged that the law forced Israeli Arabs to choose between their history and personal identities, and the state they live in.

“This is a political law,” she charged. “It has nothing to do with the budget.”

Zoabi also charged that the sponsors of the bill were trying to impose their own political ideology by turning it into a law.

“And don’t tell me that if I don’t like it here I can leave,” she continued. “I have the right to be here and to have a good life here.”

The legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Dan Yakir, also spoke out against the bill.

“The members of the law committee made a mockery of Israeli democracy when they decided for us what we may and may not talk about and, in essence, supported a bill meant to silence unpopular statements,” he said. “The bill inflicts mortal damage on the right of Israeli Arabs to preserve their cultural and national identity.”

Bar-Ilan University Professor Ariel Ben-Dor told the committee that the bill should not prohibit the activities that it lists but declare that state funding will be deducted for such an activity in accordance with how much the organization spent. He also said the possibility of deducting 10 times the value of the expenditure was disproportionate.

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