Israel Cabinet Supports Bill to Prohibit Use of Nazi Symbols in Protests

Draft bill, which was introduced after Holocaust symbols were used in ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem last week, is expected to pass preliminary vote in Knesset.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted Monday to support a controversial bill that would make it a crime to call someone a "Nazi" or wear a yellow star as a means of protest. The bill is expected to pass a preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday.

The draft bill, which was 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 anyone convicted of breaking the law.

Haredi protest - Olivier Pitoussi - 01012012
Olivier Fitoussi

The bill prohibits use of all forms of the word "Nazi" or similar-sounding words used because of that resemblance; 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. It would also ban all photographs, drawings, sculptures and the like depicting a swastika or anything else that makes a definitive reference to Nazism.

"I am happy that the cabinet supports this important bill," its sponsor, MK Uri Ariel (National Union), said 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.

"This bill seeks in effect to control the public debate, its content and tone, with force, using criminal prohibitions and the threat of prison. Freedom of expression is the right to say harsh, critical and even hurtful things. It is the right to give crude and extreme expression to opinions, emotions and thoughts and it also includes the right to make rhetorical use of difficult and provocative images," the organization said.