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The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Commitee on Sunday gave initial passage to of a bill that would outlaw membership in an organization with racist objectives.

The bill, proposed by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), originally dealt only with Nazi and neo-Nazi activity, but the final version of the bill is likely to block far-right Jewish groups as well. Existing law bans incitement to racism, and political parties that want to win representation in the Knesset can be banned due to racist activity, but so far, racist gatherings remain legal.

Gafni submitted the bill in the wake of the exposure of a neo-Nazi gang in Petah Tikva, and the increasing activity of skinheads in Israel. In committee, it was merged with a government-sponsored bill proposing that racist gatherings be banned.

If the law is passed, it will entail a change in the penal code. Someone convicted of membership in an organization aimed at overturning Israeli authorities, or toppling the government by force, destroying government property or undertaking seditious action already faces up to a year in prison.

The bill would impose a similar punishment on members of a group "that in its constitution or its publicity or in another way and in an organized fashion advocates, incites or encourages racism, including advocating, inciting or encouraging... the principles of the Nazis or the Nazi movement."

MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) plans to request that the reference to racism be struck from the bill, leaving only the ban on Nazi organizations.

Rotem said that in Israel it is customary to distinguish between Nazism and regular racism and that it would have been appropriate to put the two in separate clauses; since he cannot do so, he wants to maintain only the reference to Nazi organizations.

Gafni said he considers it quite important that the law would be banning Nazi organizations for the first time. Committee chairman MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) said the bill underwent many changes before reaching its current state and that the decision to ban both neo-Nazism and general racism led to a balanced result.

"The proposals came a long way from the original formulations, which called for the citizenship of Israeli citizens [convicted of involvement in Nazi activities] to be revoked," he said.