'New bill more draconian than old'

MKs in heated exchange d

October 26, 2009 15:00
3 minute read.

The Knesset Law Committee began to prepare a private member's bill on Monday that Israel Beiteinu MKs described as a milder version of the Nakba bill, but that opposition MKs charged was far more draconian. The bill was sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MK Alex Miller and a group of MKs that included Law Committee chairman David Rotem. Miller's original bill stated that observance of a "Nakba" commemoration declaring that Israel's victory in the 1948 War of Independence and the establishment of the state was a catastrophe constituted a criminal offense and that anyone convicted of such a "crime" could be sentenced to up to three years in jail. Public outrage caused the government to pressure Miller into changing the legislation. According to the new proposal, any body supported by government funding would be prohibited from carrying out any activity that denied the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; that denied its democratic character; that incited to racism, violence or terrorism; or that caused damage to the state flag or symbol. The law authorizes the finance minister to "withhold sums of money which are supposed to be transferred to such a body from the state budget according to any law." At the beginning of the meeting, Rotem explained that according to the intent of the bill, "the state is not obliged to financially support activities that are aimed against it. It is a good law, given today's circumstances, in which we are discovering more and more organizations financed by the state that act against it." It was obvious that the bill would meet with vocal opposition from Arab MKs, but even the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry opposed its current wording. "It is not clear from the wording of the bill exactly how the ministry accountants should punish organizations that violate its provisions," said the Finance Ministry representative. He also said the Finance Ministry was not qualified to determine when the law had been broken. The Justice Ministry representative charged that the drafters of the bill had not consulted the Justice Ministry before bringing the proposal to the committee. He also said that in its current form, the proposed legislation was disproportionate and gave the Finance Ministry too much power. The Arab MKs and Hadash MK Dov Khenin opposed the legislation altogether. "On the face of it, this is supposed to be a much more moderate version of the Nakba Law," he said. "In reality, it is much harsher." The gist of the bill, said Khenin, was that "the state will not finance public activities if they do not meet political standards." The sanctions will not only apply to Arab municipal authorities, but to theaters, universities, public lectures, movies and other intellectual and cultural forums subsidized by the state - and not just Arab ones. "This law constitutes an effective mechanism for political censorship," charged Khenin. "And who has been appointed chief censor? Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz." Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta'al) warned that the bill would punish Arabs for publicly stating their belief that Israel should be the state of all its citizens. Rotem did not deny that the law applied to words as well as actions. "A lecture is an act," he told the committee. "And from there, one very quickly arrives at bombs and terrorism." Rotem argued that the Arabs were disloyal because they refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Sanaa and fellow UAL-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi argued that they were not disloyal to the state. The argument quickly degenerated. "I'm the master of the house, and I will continue to live here," Rotem shouted at Sanaa and Tibi. "I was born here, and you will not throw me out. I will throw you out sooner. You have a problem with my presence here? There's nothing you can do about it. For you, I will always be the occupier, always the foreigner. If you could have, you would have thrown us out in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. You are always trying to expel the Jews. But you can't. We will remain here in spite of you." To this, Tibi replied, "We will see which one of us has more patience."

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