Knesset Committee Catapults Fine for Desecrating Israeli National Flag

Knesset committee sets fine at $15,137, instead of the 300 lirot (the old Israeli currency) still stipulated in the law.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters burn an Israeli flag, 2008.
Alex Levac

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee has approved a substantial hike in the fine for desecrating the state flag to 58,400 shekels ($15,137), instead of the 300 lirot (the old Israeli currency) still stipulated in the law.

During Monday’s debate, Israel Police supplied data showing that one person was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2015 for desecrating the flag, while seven others had been indicted. However, the police representative, Shimrit Raz from the investigations department, couldn’t say who had been convicted and what his sentence was. The data showed that since 2012 police have opened 75 files for flag desecration. Raz said that the investigation of artist Ariel Bronz, who fixed an Israeli flag between his buttocks at the Haaretz conference in March, was continuing.

The data was presented during a hearing on amendments to the Flag, Symbol and National Anthem Law that would increase the punishments for flag desecration. Under current law, the maximum punishment for debasing the flag of a foreign country is three years’ imprisonment, while desecrating the Israeli flag, besides the fine, carries a punishment of only one year.

“It would make sense that harming the country’s flag would be considered more serious than harming the flags of friendly countries,” explained the bill’s initiator, Nava Boker (Likud). The new bill would make the sentence for both violations three years.

Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul attacked the measure. “I’m against undermining freedom of expression and I think a year is a proportionate sentence,” he said. “Why make it three years? It’s strange that in an enlightened nation, one of the most enlightened in the world, the flag is turned into idolatry. Soon we’ll reach the point where whoever doesn’t kiss the flag every morning will be punished.”