David Rotem
Photo by Tess Scheflan
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The Knesset passed two controversial bills on Wednesday- one which allows small communities in the Galilee and Negev to maintain admissions committees to screen potential new residents, and another which bars public funding of entities that "undermine the foundations of the state and contradict its values," including undermining the Jewish or democratic nature of Israel.

Known as the "Nakba Law," its original intent was to sentence to prison anyone who marks Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning or who holds memorial events for the Palestinian "Nakba" (destruction ).

Critics of the admission committee law, which would apply to communities in the north and south with up to 400 families, have said the provisions could be used to bar weaker demographic groups, including Arabs, immigrants, same-sex couples and single-parent families, from being accepted as residents. The law's proponents have said that amendments to the initial legislation will prevent candidates from being rejected on these grounds, but the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, along with the Abraham Fund, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence, and a group of Galilee residents, filed a petition yesterday with the High Court of Justice describing the law as a "license for discrimination."

One of the bill's sponsors, David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, said in response: "I am not ignoring improper disqualification of people, but such concerns cannot prevent the Knesset from dealing with a situation in which development of communities is blocked."

MK Hanna Swaid of Hadash acknowledged the law's explicit prohibition against ethnic or religious discrimination but said the legislation left an opening to reject candidates based on cultural characteristics. Only 55 of the 120 members of parliament were present for the early morning vote. Thirty-five voted in favor and 20 against. The vote took place at 2:42 A.M., as the Knesset raced to pass legislation before the Passover recess. Only three Kadima MKs were present for the vote. Two of them, Israel Hasson and Shai Hermesh, were sponsors of the bill and voted for it on its second and third readings, the last step in the legislative process.

Among other legislation approved this week was a bill authorizing the creation of a second salaried post of deputy mayor in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Netanya and Ashdod at a cost of more than NIS 1 million per officeholder.

The ACRI petition against the admission committee legislation said the law would legalize discrimination based on the vague standard of "compatibility with the life of the community" or "compatibility with the social texture." A coalition of other groups, including Adalah legal center for Arab minority rights, announced yesterday that it intended to file its own legal challenge to the legislation. Recently the legal adviser to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Sigal Kogut, said she, too, thought the legislation presented constitutional problems.

In response to the passage of the Nakba bill, the Arab Education Monitoring Committee announced that it would continue to direct Arab Israeli schools to mark national Israeli Arab commemorations including Nakba Day, saying: "The Palestinian Arab public in Israel has the full right to mark its national days and preserve its collective memory, including [promoting] educational content and curriculum. It's fascist chutzpah and a new low point in the slippery racist slope on which the Israeli government, Knesset and Israeli society are descending."

MK Afu Aghbaria (Hadash ) said the Arab population would persisting in marking the Nakba without the use of government funds, adding: "We will continue activities marking Nakba Day with the aim of presenting the historical facts, which are not subject to interpretation when it comes to a people uprooted from its land, many of whose members were made refugees."

For its part, the Abraham Fund said Knesset members were mistaken if they thought passage of the Nakba bill would pave the way to forcing the country's Arab minority to celebrate Independence Day. It is important to allow Israel's Arabs to mark their past and their pain and for both Arabs and Jews to acknowledge the other's group narrative, the group said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party sponsored the bill, said: "There is no other normal country that funds events comparing its establishment to a catastrophe."

Among other legislation approved this week was a bill authorizing the creation of a second salaried post of deputy mayor in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Netanya and Ashdod at a cost of more than NIS 1 million per officeholder.