The Knesset passed a controversial counterterrorism bill in its first reading overnight Thursday 45-14. Zionist Union, the main opposition party, voted in support of the bill which significantly increases the government's authority and expands the definition of what constitutes a terrorist organization.
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The bill now moves to the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for rewording before being sent to its second and third reading.
The bill would aggregate all existing counterterrorism legislation into a single law, while also making various additions and updates. If it passes, some existing counterterrorism laws that date back to the pre-state British Mandate would finally be repealed.
Among other articles, the bill stipulates a three-year prison sentence for those expressing public support for terrorist groups, equates the punishment for those found guilty of aiding terror to that of convicted terrorists, and raises the maximum sentence for terror-related crimes to 30 years.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who sponsored the bill, said it was intended to give law enforcement "the tools it needs to lead an effective battle against terror organizations, both in their increasing activities and the ways they are funded." She added: "In the fight against terror there is no left and right."
The government first proposed the bill almost five years ago, but it has stalled again and again in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Shaked said that after the military, the "legal front" was the central arena in which the struggle against terrorism was taking place and that there was a need to "upgrade Israel's legal abilities" in this regard.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon, who opposed the bill and termed some of its provisions “totalitarian,” said "there was a need to destroy the factory which creates the motivation for terror, and that is the occupation."
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi blasted the bill, saying "there is occupation and from the occupation is derived the right of the occupied people to struggle for liberty. At times, these turn into acts of violence. The state of violence will continue and to stop it's there is need to free the Palestinian people from the occupation.
A history of violence
Following a deadly arson attack on a Palestinian family in the West Bank town of Duma in late July, the government decided to try to push the counterterrorism bill through as quickly as possible to give the security services more tools with which to fight Jewish terror. Jewish terrorists are thought to be behind the Duma attack.
The bill was expected to pass since the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided the entire coalition would support it.
On Tuesday, many opposition MKs said they still hadn’t decided, because they received the bill only on Monday — a fact that infuriated many — and hadn’t yet had time to study its hundreds of articles. Nevertheless, senior members of Zionist Union, the main opposition party, said they expected most party MKs to back the bill.
The central opposition party eventually decided to implement party discipline, binding all of its MKs to vote for the bill.
“How could we explain to the public that we voted against a comprehensive, updated bill whose purpose is fighting terror?” said one MK, who asked to remain anonymous.
He also noted that during the last Knesset, the bill was pushed by then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, today Zionist Union’s second in command.
The MK said he personally dislikes many parts of the bill, but believes the plenum should approve it in first reading, after which changes can be made in the Constitution Committee.
One particularly controversial provision would allow any Palestinian charity affiliated with Hamas to be listed as a terrorist organization.
Adalah, the Legal Center for the Arab Minority in Israel, says "The law substantially strengthens and widens the powers of the police and the General Security Services to suppress any legitimate protest activities against Israeli policies. It also enables the use of 'secret evidence' in order to take preventative measures against these activities, which impedes the possibility of objecting to these repressive decisions based on their merits before the judiciary
Adalah emphasized that if the new "Anti-Terrorism Law" passes, it would "seriously escalate the level of repression and intimidation targeted against the political activity of Palestinian citizens of Israel through the criminalization of political, cultural and social relationships between them and the rest of the Palestinian people."