The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved a bill mandating prison terms for anyone who dissuades Christian Arabs from volunteering for military service, or persuades them to desert once they’ve joined.
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The Joint List of Arab parties, which opposes the bill approved by the panel last week, had allegedly been promised that controversial legislation would not be discussed during the Id al-Fitr holiday. But while the Arab MKs were absent, the committee debated the bill and voted for second and third readings.
Still, there were sources in the committee who said the Arab MKs had not demanded that the debate be suspended during the holiday.
The bill was sponsored by MK Yoav Kish (Likud). Arab MKs say such a law would infringe on freedom of expression and be used to suppress the legitimate debate in Arab society on whether Christians should join the military.
“Everyone has the right to express their opinion, especially in view of the disagreement in the Christian community on joining the army,” said MK Osama Saadia (Joint List).
“The fact that they held the discussion despite the agreement not to do so is suspicious and inapropriate,” he added, saying the party’s MKs would vote against the bill in the full Knesset.
Saadia said that while the Arab MKs objected to violence and threats against young people who wanted to join the army, the term “incitement to evasion” in the bill could include mere criticism or calling on someone not to join the army.
Nirit Moskovich of the NGO Social Guard attended the committee’s discussion. “On a day when many important debates were canceled because of Id al-Fitr, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a meeting with Jewish MKs only and unanimously approved a bill that seriously violates Arab citizens’ freedom of expression,” she said.
The current law mandates three to 15 years in prison for anyone who persuades someone to desert during compulsory military service, or for anyone who aids a deserter or gives him shelter.
Justice Ministry officials at the meeting said there was no need for the bill, as existing legislation concerning conscripts could be applied to volunteers.
Shadi Halul, a leading supporter of Christian Arabs doing military service, harshly criticized the Arab MKs and said current legislation wasn’t enough to prevent threats on young Christians.
“The Arab MKs write letters and incite [Christians] against joining the army,” he said. “We need this bill to protect the soldiers.”