Barak, Labor Ministers to Fight Bill Banning Nakba Events

Herzog, Simhon and Braverman say law would strengthen the 'extremist minority among Israeli Arabs.'

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Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak opposes a bill that would forbid Israeli Arabs from commemorating the Nakba on Israel's Independence Day and plans to raise the issue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his associates said Monday.

Three other Labor ministers announced yesterday that they would appeal the bill's approval by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to the full cabinet.

Nakba - literally, "catastrophe" - is the Arab term for Israel's establishment in 1948. The bill was sponsored by MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said the bill damaged freedom of expression and freedom of association.

"This law will increase the isolationism and alienation in society and will strengthen the extremist minority among Israeli Arabs," the ministers said in a statement.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a preliminary proposal which would make it illegal to hold events or ceremonies marking Israel's Independence Day as a "Nakba," or catastrophe.

Rather than holding barbecues and parades on Independence Day, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians usually take the day to commemorate the dispersal of Palestinians during the 1948 War of Independence.

The ministers' appeal will result in a government discussion on the matter, which may take place as early as next Sunday. Such a discussion is likely to stir sharp differences of opinion between the center-left Labor and the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu, the party that initiated the bill.

Nakba Day is often observed by the Arab population in Israel with marches through destroyed villages.

According to the bill, those found in violation could face up to three years in prison.

The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a non-governmental group that works for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel, issued a statement Monday criticizing the bill.

"The refusal to acknowledge the historical narrative of Arab citizens will not diminish the importance of the issue to them, but it will make the path to reconciliation, compromise, and building a shared future for Jews and Arabs of the state more difficult," the organization said.

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