Holocaust survivors and attorneys representing them called on Wednesday for the
Knesset to approve a controversial bill that would make using Nazi and Holocaust
symbols a criminal offense.
While civil rights groups argued the bill
would harm freedom of expression, Holocaust survivors said that although free
speech was important, there should be limits.
“Politics cannot reduce the
importance of the Shoah to the Israeli people,” said survivor Miriam
Grieber. Attorney Uri Weisenberg from the Center of Organizations of
Holocaust Survivors in Israel said any and all use of Nazi or Holocaust symbols
should be outlawed.
“Freedom of expression is of great value,” he said.
“But it is not the ultimate sacred value.”
The remarks came during a
hearing of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which convened
to prepare the proposed legislation, dubbed the Nazi Symbols Bill, for its first
reading in the Knesset.
The Nazi Symbols Bill is a combination of four
separate bills, all of which seek to criminalize the use of Nazi
While several countries, including Germany, Hungary and Poland,
have banned the public display of Nazi symbols, it is legal in Israel.
recent months, secular and religious residents have come under fire for using
such symbols or the term “Nazi” as a provocative way to lash out at political
In January, Holocaust survivors and survivors’ organizations
condemned haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protesters in Jerusalem for using Holocaust
imagery during demonstrations, during which some people wore concentration camp
uniforms and yellow Stars of David.
Meanwhile, the Im Tirtzu movement is
suing a group of left-wing activists who dubbed the movement “fascist.” An
attorney representing Im Tirtzu said the remarks linked the movement to the
The first two bills, proposed by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union)
and Yoel Hasson (Kadima), would make it a criminal offense to use any Nazi
symbol, or to make improper use of Holocaust symbols – including wearing yellow
Stars of David and concentration camp prisoner uniforms.
The same bills
also make it a criminal offense to use the term “Nazi” as a pejorative term for
another person, including expressing hope that the Nazis’ goals of exterminating
the Jewish people should eventually be realized, or by expressing regret that
those genocidal goals were not fulfilled.
The law would make the offenses
punishable by six months in prison and a hefty fine.
However, calling a
person a Nazi would not be an offense if it were proved to be true, or if it
were done within the context of historical or scientific research or
Meanwhile, Kadima MK Marina Solodkin’s bill proposes
prohibiting the use of any Holocaust or Nazi-linked icon or calling anyone a
Nazilinked name. Violation of the law would be a civil wrong punishable by one
year in prison.
The fourth bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit
Hayehudi) proposes banning Holocaust-related symbols in all advertising and
commercial materials unless approved by the Interior Ministry.
Wednesday’s committee hearing, Solodkin said she felt her bill was important
because “the Jewish people must not belittle the Holocaust.”
MKs on the Left and civil rights groups opposed the criminalization of Nazi
symbols, saying the bill was “problematic and dangerous.”
MK Dov Henin
(Hadash) said that while there was no doubt the Holocaust was a “traumatic event
in Jewish history” and a particularly sensitive subject that caused pain when
certain symbols were used, the proposed bill was an “insult to freedom of
He said the bill would also harm the memory of the
Attorney Lila Margalit of the Association for Civil Rights in
Israel (ACRI) also attended the hearing and expressed her opposition to the
“The importance and centrality of the Holocaust serve only to
exacerbate the gravity of this attempt to dictate when and in what context it is
permissible to mention this event,” Margalit wrote in a letter to committee
chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) on Tuesday.
When Rotem asked
Margalit whether she considered incitement to racism freedom of expression, the
ACRI attorney replied that the use of Holocaust symbols, even yellow Stars of
David, were “legitimate protest.”
Meanwhile, MK Israel Eichler (United
Torah Judaism) backed the bill, criticizing leftwing activists for inciting
against the haredi community.
Eichler said the media had published
cartoons making fun of the ultra-Orthodox public in ways reminiscent of the
Weisenberg pointed out that the Nazis had not
differentiated between religious and secular Jews.
No decision regarding
the proposed legislation resulted on Wednesday, and the committee is expected to
convene again shortly to debate the bill.