Revised 'Nakba Bill' to Be Submitted Despite Knesset Legal Adviser's Objection

Bill enables withholding funds from institutions that allow activities that oppose the existence of Israel as Jewish-democratic state.

A revised bill, aimed at withholding state funding from academic institutions that commemorate the Palestinian Nakba, will be submitted on Monday to the Knesset. The bill's sponsor MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ) announced yesterday that he would not make any changes to the bill, despite the opposition of the Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yanon.

An earlier version of the controversial "Nakba Bill" authorized the finance minister to withhold government funds from any state-supported organization or institution that commemorates Independence Day as a day of mourning. The new bill is specifically aimed at academic institutions, and hands the authority to withhold budgets to the education minister. The bill also enables withholding funds from institutions that allow activities that oppose the existence of Israel as Jewish-democratic state.

Last week, Yanon urged dozens of MKs who were about to submit the bill this week not to do so. The bill's sponsors included MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Zeev Elkin (Likud ), Avi Dichter and Yuval Zellner (Kadima ). Only two MKs, Ronit Tirosh and Jacob Edery (Kadima ), who originally were co-sponsors of the bill, removed their support following Yanon's plea.

In a last-minute attempt to stop the legislation, MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) called on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) to disqualify the bill. Al-Sana wrote: "The bill causes extreme and unreasonable harm to academic and political freedom of expression, as well as the basic principles of democracy ... and academic debate beyond the borders of the political consensus is the raison d'etre of academic freedom."

Miller reacted to the letter by saying that "this bill was born because of MKs such as al-Sana, who, together with his friends, encourage the exploitation of academic podiums, as well as the Knesset, to undermine the right of Israel to exist. The Arab MKs fan the fire of incitement and divisions also among students, thus necessitating legislation that would return sanity to Israel and prevent its academic institutions from funding anti-Israeli incitement."

The Knesset legal adviser's letter to the bill's sponsors clarified that the Knesset presidency could only prevent the submitting of bills that negate the existence of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, or are essentially racist. Yanon requested that they change the formulation of the bill before it is submitted.

"We believe that the present formulation of the bill leads to significant constitutional difficulties," Yanon wrote. "This sort of ban [of activities as specified in the bill], especially concerning non-criminal activities, is not customary in democratic states that support political and academic freedom."

Students and activists at a Nakba Day event at Tel Aviv University last month.
Alon Ron