Haredi protest - Olivier Pitoussi - 01012012
Saturday night‘s ultra-Orthodox demonstration in Jerusalem’s Kikar Hashabbat. Photo by Olivier Pitoussi
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The Knesset plenum passed on Wednesday in a preliminary reading a series of controversial laws that would make it a crime to call someone a "Nazi" or wear a yellow star as a means of protest. The main bill was proposed by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and was backed by the government and the coalition.

The laws, which were introduced a week after symbols of the Holocaust were used in demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, calls for a prison sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to NIS 100,000 for offenders.

The law prohibits the use of all forms of the word "Nazi" or similar-sounding words; epithets associated with Nazism, the Third Reich or any of its leaders; the wearing of striped clothing resembling that worn by prisoners in World War II-era concentration camps and yellow stars like the ones Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust or other similar symbols.

A number of MKs proposed similar bills. One of these MKs, Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said that “the intolerable ease with which Nazi symbols are used in the public and political discourse, while blatantly disrespecting the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their descendents, should be condemned.”

“I am happy that the cabinet supports this important bill," its sponsor, MK Ariel said on Monday. "Unfortunately in recent years we have been witness to the cynical exploitation of Nazi symbols and epithets in a manner that injures the feelings of Holocaust survivors, their families and many other Israelis. The law will act as an appropriate deterrent," Ariel said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel criticized the legislative proposal. "Precisely because of the importance and centrality of the Holocaust, the attempt to dictate when and in what context it can be referenced is very problematic," ACRI said in a statement.