'Nakba Bill' passes Knesset in third reading

New law would penalize local authorities, state-funded bodies for denying Israel as Jewish, democratic state; Admissions Committee Law passes.

NETANyahu at knesset 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
NETANyahu at knesset 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset approved two controversial laws slammed by left-wing legislators and activists as unfairly targeting Israeli Arabs during a late plenum session on Tuesday night. But while some coalition MKs were happy to claim victory, civil rights organizations promised that at least one of the two bills would face a Supreme Court challenge.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel announced Tuesday that they intend to appeal the Admission Committees Law to the Supreme Court. “This law establishes a mechanism of ethnic segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, under the auspices of the Knesset,” complained the co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe, calling the law “clearly unconstitutional.”
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The Nakba Bill passed its third reading with 37 voting in favor and 25 opposed. The Admissions Committee Law passed with 35 in favor and 20 opposed
The Admission Committees Law, sponsored by Israel Beiteinu’s David Rotem and Kadima’s Shai Hermesh and Yisrael Hasson, would formalize the establishment of admission committees to review potential residents of Negev and Galilee communities that have fewer than 400 families.
Although such committees existed even before the bill was passed, the bill formalizes the compilation of such committees, and also legally empowers the committees to reject candidates if they do not meet certain criteria. Possible reasons for rejection include lack of intent to establish primary residence in the community, lack of economic means to establish a home in the community, if a professional evaluation reveals that they do not fit in with the community's way of life, or do not fit in with the community's “socio-cultural” tenor.
After MKs, including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, expressed concern that the law would institutionalize discrimination, the bill was recently returned to committee and an amendment was added prohibiting admissions committees from rejecting applicants due to "race, religion, nationality or physical handicap."
Minutes before the Admission Committees Law passed, the Knesset also approved in its final readings the co-called ''Nakba Bill”, sponsored by Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu).
The re-worked version of the law would require the state to fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) Day on Independence Day, supporting armed resistance or racism against Israel, or desecrating the state flag or nation symbols.
According to the law, any state-funded body that sponsors such an event would be forced to pay three times its sponsorship cost in fines deducted from their operating budget. If the same body violates the law again in the ensuing two years, they will pay a double fine.
During an earlier plenum debate during which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke about pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka blasted both laws, as well as a third that would force residents to pay for demolition costs for illegal buildings as “racist” and said that they were intended to harm Arabs.
“On this black night, we will turn to the whole world in order to get protection from this anti-democratic government led by Binyamin Netanyahu,” complained Zahalka, hours before voting began on the bills.
The Abraham Fund also responded to the Nakba Law, warning that “Knesset members are mistaken to think that one can force the Arab minority to celebrate Israel's Independence Day. It is important to allow Arab citizens to learn about and acknowledge their painful past.  It is also important that mutual understanding of the other’s historical narrative exists between the Jews and Arabs in Israel.”