‘Anti-democratic’ bills in Knesset pipeline, ACRI warns

Rights group cites loyalty oath legislation, saying it sends "humiliating message to non-Jewish citizens," urges MKs to step back.

Netanyahu, Knesset 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu, Knesset 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Ahead of the opening day of the 18th Knesset’s third winter session, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) warned that the parliament was poised to pass a large number of antidemocratic bills, and urged MKs to step back from the alleged abyss.
“Anti-democratic tendencies in the Knesset are gaining momentum and, regrettably, the winter session is expected to follow on the last session’s trends,” the human rights organization warned late last week in a 100-page report titled “Knesset 2010 Winter Session: Expectations and Trends.”
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“The last Knesset stood out in laying the foundations for anti-democratic legislation, but the vast majority of the legislation processes [regarding these bills] is not yet over,” the report stated.
“In this respect, the coming session will be a time of [testing].
If the bills should [come to fruition] and turn into state laws, their potential damage to democracy would be realized.
But should the Knesset sober up and restrain itself and protect our democracy against the tyranny of the majority, the Israeli parliament will pass the important test of the democracy’s durability.”
One of the laws threatening democracy, according to ACRI, was the one passed by the cabinet on Sunday, calling on all new citizens who are not Jewish to pledge an oath of allegiance to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The legislation was first submitted to the Knesset as a private member’s bill by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) and recently converted into a government bill.
In an urgent letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, ACRI attorney Oded Feller wrote, “Passage of this amendment [to the Citizenship Law] would mean that non- Jews seeking naturalization in Israel would not only have to declare their intention to follow the laws of the state, but also their allegiance to a Jewish state – that is to say, their loyalty to an ideology.
“A declaration of such allegiance, it should be stressed, would have more than just symbolic significance. It could have practical ramifications for a naturalized citizen who, in the future, might make statements that could be interpreted by the authorities as opposing their ideology. A state which polices ideology, demands a declaration of loyalty and monitors the beliefs, perspectives and opinions of its citizens is not a democracy,” he asserted.
“Indeed, the text of this loyalty pledge which you have decided to support undermines the very democratic foundations of the State of Israel,” Feller continued.
“Requiring a declaration of loyalty to the Jewish state sends the humiliating and discriminatory message to non- Jewish Israeli citizens, especially to those non-Jews seeking naturalization, that Israel does not belong to them.”
But the pledge of allegiance legislation is only one of the bills that threaten democracy, according to ACRI. Some of the others are: • The Nakba Bill, which originally called for imprisoning anyone declaring Israel’s Independence Day a catastrophe (nakba) and marking it as a day of mourning.
The bill was watered down, and now any individual or body observing Nakba Day will be denied state funding.
• Incitement to Negate the Existence of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. The bill was proposed by Orlev and calls for a one-year jail sentence for anyone “who publishes a call for the negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, whose content might reasonably be followed by acts of hatred, contempt or disloyalty against the state or its government or legal authorities.”
The Knesset plenum passed the bill in preliminary reading, and it is due to be prepared for first reading by the Knesset Law Committee.
• Amendment to the Communal Associations Order. This allows admission committees in small communities to reject candidates for membership for various reasons, including “if the candidate is not right for social life in the community,” if “the candidate does not match the social-cultural fabric of the settlement,” and if he or she does not fit “unique characteristics of the communal settlement or admission terms as stipulated in the association’s codex.”
According to ACRI, “the bill primarily intends to deny ethnic minorities access to Jewish settlements, offering the possibility to reject anyone who does not concur with the settlement committee’s religion, political views and so on.”
The bill passed first reading in the plenum, and the Knesset Law Committee is due to prepare it for second and third reading.
• Prevention of Infiltration Bill.
The bill defines an infiltrator as “a person who entered Israel but not via one of the entry stations prescribed by the Minister of Interior.”
According to the bill, an infiltrator is liable to five or seven years in jail, depending on his or her country of origin, in circumstances in which he or she is not suspected of planning to perpetrate unlawful or terrorist acts. The proposed law aroused controversy and was withdrawn by the cabinet before it was to be approved by the Ministerial Legislation Committee. However, the cabinet reportedly intends to submit it again after making changes.
Other legislation mentioned by ACRI includes a bill against anyone involved in promoting material that calls for a boycott against Israel, a bill calling for greater transparency regarding contributions to Israeli NGOs from foreign state entities, and a bill that calls to revoke the citizenship of persons convicted of terrorism or espionage.