Arabs slam bill to criminalize 'nakba'

MK proposes 3 years in jail for commemorations; study: 40% of Israeli Arabs say Shoah didn't happen.

arab votes 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
arab votes 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Arab activists and politicians are slamming proposed legislation that would criminalize commemorating the establishment of the State of Israel as a day of mourning. The bill, which has been submitted by MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), would punish citizens with jail terms of up to three years for commemorating what Palestinians and Arabs consider their nakba or catastrophe. The bill, which is still in a preliminary stage, is expected to be discussed by the cabinet in the coming weeks, Miller said. "We think this is another step to limit freedom of speech and political activity" of Arab citizens, said MK Hanna Swaid of the Arab-Jewish party Hadash. Such a proposal, he said, was an attempt to deny Arab citizens their right to commemorate a very important chapter in their history and identity. While it is considered unlikely to pass, Swaid said he feared that such a bill could stir up a "dialogue of hate" against Arabs in Israel. "To deny the right of the Palestinians to commemorate this is very limiting and very frustrating," Swaid said. But Miller of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party argues that the bill could contribute to coexistence and unity of the state. "From my perspective, it very much harms me, as a citizen, when citizens… mourn the establishment of the State of Israel when they themselves have equal rights in this country," Miller told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "If we really want to achieve coexistence, the time has come that we stop this absurd theater," he said, noting that some demonstrations commemorating "Nakba Day" have turned violent. Some of the community's leaders, he said, "try each year to incite citizens in the state and I want to stop this through this law." According to Prof. Avishai Braverman, the government's minister of minority affairs, the bill would infringe on one's inherent right to protest and "is a danger to democracy and is liable to strengthen the extremists." He also added, however, that "the deligitimization of the State of Israel by an extremist part of Arab citizens does not contribute to building coexistence." A "responsible and moderate" attitude needs to prevail both in Israeli politics and in the Israeli public, he said. There were no disturbances or problems on Friday, when Arabs in Israel commemorated "Nakba Day" with events throughout the country, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sunday. Similar proposals have been introduced into the Knesset in previous sessions but have not passed. However, Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Arab advocacy organization Mossawa, said he would not be surprised if the law did pass given the current political climate vis a vis Arabs in Israel. "The ongoing efforts of extremists in the government to complicate the Middle East conflict with confrontations with our community are alarming," Farah said. "Thoughts and feelings will soon be forbidden in the State of Israel," he said. "It reminds us of the McCarthyism in the US and it's about time to show the leaders of the extreme right wing how humanity treats civilians." MK Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour (UAL-Ra'am Taal) said that such a proposal would not stop Arabs from commemorating the nakba, even if it meant they would all be put in jail because of it. "Israel's insistence on a formal and public denial of its responsibility of the Palestinian Nakba… and its constant desire to erase the memory of Palestinian generations in all possible ways, all this will not change reality and will never reduce the complete rights of the Palestinians in their homeland," he said in a statement issued on Friday. Meanwhile, a new University of Haifa study, whose results were released on Sunday, shows that 41 percent of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, compared to 65.6% in 2003. In addition, 40.5% said the Holocaust did not take place, compared to 28% who made the claim in 2006. According to Prof. Sami Smooha, who conducted the study, Holocaust-denial crosses all class sectors, with about 37% of respondents having studied beyond high school. About 53.7% of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent state, compared to 81.1% who recognized that in 2003. The study, conducted by Smooha, surveyed about 700 people from the Israeli Arab and Druse sectors.