Israeli Lawmakers Advance Bill Tightening Penalties for Flag Desecration

Knesset approves amendment increasing maximum prison sentence to three years; future of clause suspending government benefits is uncertain.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood burning Israeli flags on Lag Ba'Omer, 2008.
Alex Levac

A draft law that would allow harsher punishments for anyone convicted of desecrating the national flag passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday by a vote of 41 to 30.

The amendment to the Flag, Emblem and National Anthem Law would triple, from one year to three years, the maximum custodial sentence that could be imposed for dishonoring the flag. A clause in the bill that would allow for the suspension, for up to six years, of government payments such as unemployment benefits and university scholarships as well as free health services from offenders, but this clause was not included in Wednesdays vote because of opposition to it from members of the governing coalition.

The bill, which was submitted by Knesset member Nava Boker (Likud) in what she said was a response to the recent wave of terror attacks by Palestinians against Israeli Jews, also raises the maximum fine to 50,000 shekels ($13,000).

We see protests across Israel in which people burn Israeli flags and immediately go on with their lives as if nothing happened, said Boker. The bill seeks to put an end to this absurd situation. Burning a flag is an aggressive act that has an element of incitement against the ruler.

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz), who voted against the amendment, said it would not reduce the number of terror attacks, adding, I am against burning the state flag, but see for yourselves that the court in the United States ruled that it is permissible to burn the flag in the name of freedom of expression. You are dealing with nonsense.