(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a speech at the Israel Bar's annual conference in Eilat and an Israel Radio interview on Tuesday, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman for the first time made his position publicly clear on three current controversial issues.
Speaking in Eilat, Neeman said he supported the so-called Nakba Bill, which was approved by the ministerial law committee on May 24. The bill calls for up to three years in jail for anyone who expresses sorrow and mourning on Israel's Independence Day.
"No other countries in the world have minorities who, on their independence day, express the wish that the country will fall and want to throw all its inhabitants into the sea," said Neeman. "We endured a horrible Holocaust. More than 6 million Jews were murdered, and I cannot conceive that our independence will turn into a day of mourning."
Six ministers, including three from the Likud and three from Labor, have requested that the committee's approval of the bill, a private member's bill initiated by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu,) be reconsidered at a meeting of the entire cabinet.
There have been reports that the government will submit a much softer bill, prohibiting the direct or indirect use of public funds to finance Nakba protests.
"The bill will be discussed soon," said Neeman. "I will consider how to prevent this terrible situation, and I hope the solutions will be reasonable."
Neeman also sharply criticized Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz for statements he made the previous day at the conference, when he said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should not have been appointed to the government because of the police investigation currently being conducted against him. Mazuz said that at this point, the issue was not legal but ethical, one which the public and the politicians were responsible for.
"This question [regarding Lieberman] is on Mazuz's agenda at this moment," said Neeman. "I think it is wrong and inappropriate for him to make any statements about it in public - he cannot express what he is thinking inside before a decision has been made on the case."
When asked by the Israel Radio interviewer whether he thought a person suspected of criminal acts should serve in the government, Neeman replied, "The government has a code of ethics. There are rules of conduct. Everything depends on the circumstances in each individual case. We can't make a rigid rule."
He repeated his answer when asked whether he thought there was a problem of ethics in the political system. "I can't make generalizations," he said. "Each case must be examined on its own merits."
Neeman also announced that he intended to reexamine the report on the outposts prepared by former deputy state attorney Talia Sasson, because in the meantime she had become a political activist with clear, left-wing views.
"The Sasson report was prepared by someone who is a political activist today, and one with a very, very clear ideological position," he said.
"Therefore, I think we must look into this matter, to see whether there were political influences and if [the report] withstands legal scrutiny."
He said he also wanted to examine whether the government had indeed made a commitment to the US to dismantle outposts.