‘Nakba law’ passes vote in Knesset committee

Opponents say proposed legislation harms freedom of expression; bill would fine authorities for supporting racism against Israel.

nakba day_311 reuters (photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
nakba day_311 reuters
(photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
The so-called “Nakba law” appears to be on its way to becoming law, after it was approved in its second and third votes in the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on Monday. The legislation now awaits a second and third vote in the Knesset plenum in which it is expected to pass.
The bill gets its name because it would require the state to fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking Israeli Independence Day as the “Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) or for supporting armed resistance or racism against Israel. It also bans desecration of the state flag or national symbols.
A spokesman for committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), whose fellow party member Alex Miller initiated the bill, said that it would surely pass its final two votes, as it is a law put forward by the governing coalition.
The committee accepted a proposal put forward by Rotem ahead of the vote, under which the state body that pays for the event would be forced to pay only three times its cost in fines deducted from their operating budget, as opposed to the original proposal which called for a fine totaling ten times the expenses of the event. If the same person violates the law again over the proceeding two years, they will pay double the normal fine under the law.
During the committee reading on Monday, Miller said that “there is a limit to how much we can allow democracy to be exploited in Israel.” He added that “the approval today further removes the mask of the theater of the absurd under which the State of Israel funds directly or indirectly events which mark the state’s founding as a day of mourning, and all types of other events that undermine its founding principles in addition to its security.”
Miller called the legislation “an important proposal that was written in the spirit of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and presents an important national answer to the varying threats that try to exploit the principles of our state’s democracy in order to fight against it and refute its foundations.”
Israeli-Arab MK Hanna Suweid (Hadash) called the bill “one more ingredient in the bubble of laws that are anti-democratic, anti-minority, anti-free thought. In the end, this bubble will explode.”
Suweid said the law would harm freedom of expression and added that “commemorating the Nakba does not mean that I deny the existence of the State of Israel. I say this as someone who some years commemorates the Nakba. I am not the happiest person on this day, but to go from this to the criminal accusation that I want to deny the existence and independence of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is an imposition of guilt, collective guilt without any proof.”
MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said during the vote that “these laws of Israel Beiteinu are very sophisticated. They sink to the lowest common denominator. The base interest of Israel is its freedom of expression and thought. This is what keeps it a country.”
Herzog continued, “And who will we take the money from? From a poor town because the head of the local council decides to hold an event and give a speech on Independence Day? This highlights a subject that’s less and less common in the Arab public and gives it greater importance.”
Miller responded to Herzog, “I’d like to see how you would respond if in a class of children, the pupils held a day of mourning on one child’s birthday.”
Under the wording of the law, the decision over whether to impose the fines will be made by the Finance Minister after receiving a ruling on the matter from his ministry’s legal counsel as well as a team of professionals from the Justice Ministry and Finance Ministry.
The Adalah legal center for Arab and minority rights in Israel issued a statement on Monday calling the law “another link in the chain of laws aimed against the Arab citizens of Israel with the goal of harming their freedom of expression.” The statement added that the law “will seriously harm cultural and educational institutions and deepen the inequality and discrimination suffered by Israel’s Arab minority.”