Miller in 2009
Miller in 2009. “I view Independence Day as a state symbol, but from an early age, some citizens of Israel are taught to view this day as a day of mourning! ” Photo by Archive: Emil Salman / Jini
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MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ) is the sponsor of the so-called "Nakba Law," which passed its second and third Knesset readings Tuesday night following a stormy debate in which both Arab and Jewish MKs opposed it. The law prohibits state funds from being used to commemorate the Nakba (literally "catastrophe" ), the Palestinian term for Israel's establishment.

Are you pleased with the result?

"I think we've reached a sensible state of affairs in which the money the state allocates for matters like education and welfare will not be exploited for incitement. I think this is something on which there is a full consensus - that the state does not need to fund incitement against itself."

It's not a full consensus when the final vote on a bill is 37 in favor and 25 against.

"I don't think the opponents oppose it from the formal standpoint of what the state should or should not support. I think the opposition is pure politics, because I haven't seen any government ministry whose criteria allow money to be obtained for the purposes of undermining the symbols of the state. But apparently, some of the state funding given for educational and social purposes ends up going to political activity by these organizations or local authorities."

Why do you view the Nakba as incitement? After all, this is the way Arabs in Israel remember what happened to them in 1948, to their relatives, to people who died or were expelled; they experienced a catastrophe. These are people who do not reject the existence of the State of Israel; they are its citizens, abide by its laws, and participate in its life. But they also recall what happened to them. Why do you view this as incitement?

"First of all, the word 'Nakba' doesn't appear in the law, which speaks about marking Independence Day as a day of mourning. I view Independence Day as a state symbol, but from an early age, some citizens of Israel are taught to view this day as a day of mourning! So either we want education for coexistence and peace, or we want pupils to be brainwashed and incited against [other] citizens of their state from an early age."

But what sort of coexistence can arise if only Jews are allowed state funds to commemorate their memories, and Arabs are not? After all, we are talking about memory, about life experience; how do you think that can be banned by law?

"I'm not banning anyone's personal experience. I'm only banning state funding for this issue. State funding is given for very clear things, and the moment money allocated by the state for clear criteria is taken to fund a political agenda, the people to whom that money should have gone are harmed. I think the money should go to education, not to bus trips to mark Independence Day as a catastrophe!"

But why call the memory of 1948 a political agenda? Marking tragedies experienced by groups within a society is normal, be it Holocaust Day or Tisha B'Av or various other fast days commemorating the destruction of the Temple. This isn't a political agenda; it's the memory of a catastrophe.

"First of all, that's true, from their standpoint. But we are talking about funding allocated by the state according to criteria it sets. If you know of someplace where it's written that it's permissible to use [this] money to commemorate Independence Day as a tragedy, then tell me. But I don't! What I'm saying is that there will be no flexibility with this money; [it's only] for the issues specified by law."

No, no. Before, there was no criterion banning the use of this money to commemorate Independence Day as a catastrophe. You've created a new legal criterion which does this, for the first time. Do you think the State of Israel is not strong enough to cope with its Arab citizens commemorating the catastrophe that befell them on Independence Day? The State of Israel is strong in every way; we can cope with anything. So why do you have to ban this by law?

"I'll explain it to you: This is an issue of a very limited budget that the state gives to organizations to promote education and welfare, and they use it instead for things that are unacceptable with regard to the state. And a majority determined this today!"

It doesn't matter what I ask you; you respond by talking about the budget. But there are many other questions here.

"But that's what the law is. I'm answering you in terms of what is written in the law."

And how do you respond to the criticism that the Nakba was not really on the Arab public's agenda, but this will actually put it at the top of the agenda and lead to people commemorating the Nakba in reaction to this law?

"First of all, we see this [Nakba observance] almost every year. I'm talking only about things connected to the state budget."

Originally, you wanted Nakba observance to be a crime. If it depended on you, it would be a crime.

"Correct. At the minute, I'm speaking of the rationale I was advancing. All bills change when they are worked on, in committees and discussions and consultations. Today, what is important to me is that the state will disburse money for the ends which it has designated."

And what do you say to critics who object that you passed the law in the dead of night, on the day former President Moshe Katsav was sentenced, while no one was looking?

"There's nothing to that. The law was approved [in committee] for its second and third readings a week ago and was placed on the Knesset's docket, and [the scheduling] had nothing to do with us. When Knesset members decide to submit amendments doesn't depend on me. I don't see any connection between the two things."

And you think no harm was done to the Arab public.

"Not at all. I think the Arab public was harmed before, when budgets allocated for the issues I mentioned earlier were used for other purposes. That is a very grave matter."

Do you think that more and more laws like this one might cause more Arabs to want to leave Israel and move to other countries, or to the Palestinian Authority?

"Not at all. There's no issue here of leaving. This is an issue of how a citizen defines his citizenship in the state where he lives - of all those who tried for years to inflame a certain [population] sector, who tried for generations to incite citizens against other citizens."