MKs discuss France-like burka ban

Bill presented to Knesset regarded as unlikely to become law.

Burqa 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Burqa 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israeli lawmakers and women’s rights activists weighed in Thursday over a bill which passed one house of the French parliament on Tuesday banning face-covering Islamic veils in France. A similar bill was presented to the Knesset this week but is regarded as highly unlikely to become law.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List- Ta’al) told The Jerusalem Post he opposed the measure on legal grounds and said he suspected French lawmakers had an ulterior motive in advancing their version.
“I’m opposed to such prohibitive, laws because I think one’s code of dress is their own choice,” Tibi said.
“But this may be part of a growing phenomenon of Islamophobia throughout Europe.”
MK Einat Wilf (Labor) said she understood the problematic nature of the state intervening in its citizens’ right to practice their religious beliefs but that ultimately she supported it to protect the rights of women.
“I am sympathetic to the French dilemma toward a group which wishes to live in France but refuses to share its ideals,” the lawmaker said.
“My attitude is that there are instances, especially when women’s rights are involved, that the state has to draw the line even if it seems invasive or cruel. But I am aware of the troublesomeness of this. On the whole, I think the decision was right for France.”
She compared women wearing veils that fully cover their face with those forced to sit in the back of the bus on lines catering to haredi communities in Israel.
“The state should not accept instances where women and men are separated humiliatingly,” she said.
On Tuesday, the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, voted in favor of the bill by a majority of 335 to one. It needs to be ratified in the Senate in September to become a law.
If passed, the bill will slap fines of €150 on women who wear garb that covers the entirety or most of their face, like the niqab or burka, and mete out prison sentences of up to a year behind bars and a fine of €30,000 to men who make their wives wear them.
CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewry, declined to comment on the passing of the bill. However, in an address earlier this year, CRIF President Richard Prasquier expressed support for the ban.
“The burqa is contrary to the values of the republic, not only because it is imposed on women but also because we communicate with others through our face,” Prasquier said.
Women’s rights groups in Israel said they suspected French lawmakers who sponsored the bill did not have the best interest of the women they were allegedly protecting in mind.
Hanna Kehat, the founder of Kolech, a religious women’s rights group, said she had mixed feelings over the bill. “They’re not admitting the real reason,” she said. “They say it’s a matter of liberalism, but if women say that that is what they want, how can one interfere? Fashion also often oppresses women with norms which lead to anorexia.”
She added: “I wouldn’t want to see such a law in Israel.”
However, similar legislation is now being proposed here. On Monday, MK Marina Solodkin of Kadima presented a bill to the Knesset that greatly resembles the current French proposal.
If it is approved, Israeli women caught in public wearing a scarf fully covering their face would be fined NIS 500 or sentenced to one month in prison. Anyone forcing them to wear a full-faced veil would be fined NIS 10,000 or sentenced to six months behind bars.
Eilat Maoz, the general coordinator for The Coalition of Women for Peace, called Solodkin’s bill “a joke” and said it was highly unlikely to become a law. “Under the guise of defending women, the state is often defending racism,” she said. “The burqa exposes those who wear it to both sexism and racism. Like many other instances, the state has to decide in this case whether to intervene or not.”