Draconian ‘Naqba’ bill approved for first reading

Panel to moderate text before final vote on legislation that aims to impose harsh fines on organizations using state funds to 'mourn’ Independence Day.

shuafat riots goats 311 (photo credit: AP)
shuafat riots goats 311
(photo credit: AP)
Consultations between MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) and the JusticeMinistry have yielded a far more draconian “Naqba” bill than the onewhich the Knesset plenum approved in preliminary reading, it emergedTuesday during a Knesset Law Committee meeting.
The committeemet to approve the draft of the bill for first reading after Miller,who initiated the legislation, met with Justice Ministry officials tohammer out a mutually acceptable proposal.
But committeechairman, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), made it clear that theproposal would be moderated after being approved by the Knesset plenumand sent back to the committee to prepare it for its final readings.
Thebill forbids government-funded or government-supported organizationsfrom spending money on activities that, among other things, markIsrael’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.
Any suchorganization which is found to have spent money on “Naqba”commemorations or other activities specified in the bill can have asmuch as 10 times the amount of money that it spent deducted from itsbudget, according to the draft which is to be presented to the Knessetplenum.
Originally, Miller proposed a much harsher bill whichdetermined that any “Naqba” commemoration declaring that Israel’svictory in the1948 War of Independence and the establishment of thestate was a catastrophe constituted a criminal offense punishable by upto three years in prison.
The bill was originally approved bythe Ministerial Committee on Legislation. However, a strong publicoutcry convinced Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to demand far-reachingchanges in the legislation.
Miller proposed a new bill on July7, 2009 which entirely eliminated the possibility of a prison sentence,did not render it illegal to mark the “Naqba” on Independence Day, butordered the state to financially penalize organizations that did sousing state funding. The new bill did not stipulate how large thepenalty should be.
According to the current draft of the bill,any state-financed or state-supported organization will be financiallypenalized it if conducts an activity that:
• denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, or
• commemorates Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning, or
• supports armed struggle or an act of terrorism against the state of Israel, or
• incites to racism, violence or terrorism, or
• causes injury to the honor of the flag or the symbol of the state by an act that causes humiliation or physical damage.
Thebill authorizes the Finance Minister to deduct from the budget of anyorganization that commits any of the above acts in consultation withthe minister responsible for the organization and upon therecommendation of a committee of civil servants who examine theactivity. The minister must grant a hearing to the suspectedorganization before taking measures.
Haneen Zoabi (Balad)charged that the law forced Israeli Arabs to choose between theirhistory and personal identities, and the state they live in.
“This is a political law,” she charged. “It has nothing to do with the budget.”
Zoabi also charged that the sponsors of the bill were trying to impose their own political ideology by turning it into a law.
“And don’t tell me that if I don’t like it here I can leave,” shecontinued. “I have the right to be here and to have a good life here.”
The legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Dan Yakir, also spoke out against the bill.
“The members of the law committee made a mockery of Israeli democracywhen they decided for us what we may and may not talk about and, inessence, supported a bill meant to silence unpopular statements,” hesaid. “The bill inflicts mortal damage on the right of Israeli Arabs topreserve their cultural and national identity.”
Bar-Ilan University Professor Ariel Ben-Dor told the committee that thebill should not prohibit the activities that it lists but declare thatstate funding will be deducted for such an activity in accordance withhow much the organization spent. He also said the possibility ofdeducting 10 times the value of the expenditure was disproportionate.